Category Archives: What is literature for?

C.T. Salazar’s “American Cavewall Sonnets”–Or as William Blake Would Say, “Hear the Voice of the Ancient Bard,/Who Present, Past, and Future Sees…”

With cavewall sonnets, it is necessary to speak of an ancient bard or ancestral voice intoning rich, mysteriously rich and tantalizing if sometimes evasive syllables. My feeling after reading through C.T. Salazar’s book American Cavewall Sonnets several times is that I will have to live a long time with this book before I feel I really understand these poems at all as thoroughly as they deserve; but don’t understand me to be complaining. From the beckoning and lush art of the front cover–what one has come to expect from Bull City Press’s chapbooks, here the cover art being Wildstyle Still LIfe by Collin van der Sluijs–the story of the poems is one of equal lushness, richness, elliptical at some points, but a straightforward celebration and reveling in language. If you’re expecting the rhyme or meter of a traditional sonnet, don’t: though some of the lines have distinguishable meter, it is intermittent and tends to occur in first lines where it does. The main sonnet constraint (and here, in the glory of the unrestricted experiment it would be a constraint to expect a formal sonnet) is that each poem is 14 lines long, 8 lines followed by a separate 6, and in one case, a visual poem of two recurring words, even that form isn’t strictly adhered to. But trust me, if you give these poems your time and heartfelt participation, it won’t matter a jot to you if the traditional sonnet is left totally in the dust for this spell of poetry.

Thus, formally speaking, this book of poetry is not a docile housemate, though sometimes a frenzied one; it is never reallly indecorous or disrespectful, however. It respects first of all the internal distances between reader and poet, and negotiates them without rapine or plunder of the reader’s resources. What do I mean by all that? Here’s an example:

"The rifle scope was a failure indeed
of the imagination--look through there
and everthing becomes           a target."  (p. 13). 

From this, one can see that while the poet has no intention of allowing his poems to be the target, to succumb to facile interpretation, the reader is welcomed into the lovely disorder and chaos that do aim towards meanings, but multiple meanings, as toward multiple–no, not targets–but caresses of the imagination. These are gentle, yet serious touches on the reader’s arm and consciousness.

The moments of darkness are not denied, the ones that keep humans sheltering in their illusions rather than facing what confronts them. “I never talked about what I saw in the river: /the humans who drowned.” The “mosaic” of our moments of darkness and also of belief is the mosaic “made from the salvaged chips of empire.” (p. 10)

And the force of memory in this consciousness, one which the poet tries to bring the reader to expand and to share with him, takes its turn too in the book–thus not only the target has been magicked away, but time cannot lose its soul to passing, and permanence becomes conceivable as more than a dream:

"This room was no longer, so I put it
back together/I put it back in my
mind/I put it in the back of my mind....
At the end of the world I'm told
a prayer could harden into a full
moon bright enough to guide our fathers back."  (p.27)

It’s not a matter of self-deception, though. In the ellipses I have placed above, the fragility of a broken vase is mentioned, and in the following line just below, we are told: “Even a whisper can bruise.” In such a world, wherein the poet must mediate and (once again) negotiate for himself and others, Salazar positions the poet in the most human and resonant of places: in the juncture between fragility and breaking and constancy and wholeness, we are finally told, as the summation of that sonnet and the book, “love, touch me.” And that sense of trust in our human capacity amid the challenges which may overwhelm us at any moment is a sense of trust in the bond, too, the compact, between poet and reader.

Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

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Apologies for Being Otherwise Busy, and a Suggestion for a Great Halloween Read

Hello, website, Twitter and Facebook readers! My apologies for going quiet mostly for a whole week or more now. I’ve been busy getting ready for moving (possibly) and simultaneously submitting poems, articles, and prose bits to publishers/magazines and checking on the same in Submittable and other sites. But as your reward, I have a Halloween suggestion for reading which will be guaranteed to shiver your timbers as well as the rest of you, from one of the greats. Please follow the Yellow Brick Road, or the trail of breadcrumbs to my very next post–it wouldn’t be a Halloween post if I didn’t keep you in suspense–and read my 2012 post on Kingsley Amis’s The Green Man. If you read the book, I promise you won’t be disappointed (Brrrhhhhh! And here I thought I was a back-to-nature woman!). Happy haunted dreams!

Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

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“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)

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

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)

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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.

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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’…

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

Because I could not deal with Twitter, WordPress kindly dealt with me…apologies to Emily Dickinson.

Here are four poems from my book of poetry which is coming out on August 26th. I tried, believe me, I tried, to send a sample into the blogosphere/webosphere on both YouTube and Twitter, but both apparently require a special (purchased) app to do that, so I decided to go back to something I knew and try WordPress, which always publishes my posts on Twitter in inset tweets anyway. Sorry if this is an inconvenience for anyone with a phone or tablet, as I understand you might not be able to get embedded files, but I did the best I could, and I don’t have any more. As they used to say, I can no more! I sincerely hope you get a read anyway, and that you feel the extra trouble you may have gone to, whatever it may have been, was worth it. All the best, Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

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