Friday, March 31, 2006


Congratulations are in order to The Secret Thread's own DUKE ALTUM, who has recently learned he will become a PUBLISHED POET for the first time. We here at the Thread consider this to be a celebratory event, and the editors send our fervent and well-deserved (we feel) congratulations.

Published under a different name, Duke's "Phrases I'm Going Through" is going to appear in the Spring/Lent 2006 issue of an online Catholic journal called "Dappled Things", which itself is named from the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

"Phrases" is an exceptionally clever collection of small poems that each begin with a common cliche - phrases we're all used to hearing so many times that many of them have lost their meaning. In Duke's poems, each phrase is taken as starting point to a new meaning, an often enlightening and revelatory one. This is truly one of Duke's most original and interesting works as an aspiring poet and they must be read to be appreciated.

The poems will be published online. "Dappled Things" can be seen at It's an attractive site and a great place to air out Duke's first published poem in a public setting.

Perhaps this post will lead TST's many readers to begin a groundswell of demand for Duke to share some of his "phrases", and the insights he's found in them, with Secret Thread readers in his celebrated, near-legendary POTW series. If enough of you write in......


Mutt Ploughman
Secret Thread contributor and co-editor

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #28

The Nigerian poet/playwright/novelist/literary critic and first-ever black African Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has never been one to shy away from shining a bright, harsh light on racial discrimination, hypocrisy, tyranny and other forms of human cruelty. His is a moving, powerful and sometimes bitter voice crying out from the wilderness of West Africa, and he has suffered through long periods of imprisonment and exile for his courageous criticism of various brutal governments in his home country. His work combines elements of the great Western literary tradition with African myths, legends and folklore.

Though I don't know it well, what I have read of Soyinka's poetry reveals it to be powerful work that is deeply emotional, at times very moving and tender and at other times, harsh and uncompromising (especially when attacking the injustices that have been inflicted on his own people over the years). This particular poem touches on all of these things, and serves as a real eye-opener for those of us who have grown up within the celebrity-obsessed entertainment culture, and therefore sometimes don't see how arrogant and air-headed we must seem to the rest of the watching world. By contrasting these two very different deaths (and the ways in which they were marked), Soyinka makes us question and ponder what truly makes a human life worth celebrating and memorializing (and what doesn't). These heart-stirring lines will stick with me for a long time:

Courage is its own crown, sometimes
Of thorns, always luminous as martyrdom.

IMPORTANT: Here is Soyinka's note that goes along with the poem, which is essential for we ignorant Westerners to grasp its meaning:

Kudirat Abiola, the wife of the elected Nigerian President M.K.O. Abiola, was assassinated by agents of the usurping dictator, Sanni Abacha, in June 1996, the year before Princess Diana died in a motor accident.


Some Deaths are Worlds Apart
(for Kudirat)

No bed of flowers bloomed for Kudirat
She was not royal, white or glamorous
Not one carnation marked the spot of death.
Though undecreed, a ban on mourning spoke
Louder than cold-eyed guns that spat
Their message of contempt against the world.

Oh, there were noises from the diplomatic world
A protest diskette ran its regulation course -- but
She was no media princess, no sibling
Of hagiomanic earls. All too soon it was:
Business as usual. Dark sludge
And lubricant of conscience, oil
Must flow, though hearts atrophy, and tears
Are staunched at source.

Death touches all, both kin and strangers.
The death of one, we know, is one death
One too many. Grief unites, but grief's
Manipulation thrusts our worlds apart
In more than measurable distances -- there are
Tears of cultured pearls, while others drop
As silent stones. Their core of embers
Melts brass casings on the street of death.

She was not royal, white or glamorous
No catch of playboy millionaires.
Her grace was not for media drool, her beauty
We shall leave to nature's troubadors.

Courage is its own crown, sometimes
Of thorns, always luminous with martyrdom.
Her pedigree was one with Moremi,
Queen Amina, Aung Sung Kyi, with
The Maid of Orleans and all who mother
Pain as offspring, offer blood as others, milk.

She seeks no coronet of hearts, who reigns
Queen of a people's will.
Oh let us praise the lineage
That turns the hearth to ramparts and,
Self surrendered, dons a mantle that becomes
The rare-born Master of Fate.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

'Bridge' Over Troubled Water: Celebrating an Unjustly Forgotten Literary Masterpiece

The "unjustly forgotten literary masterpiece" referred to in my grandiose post title is actually a work that, in my mind, could not be praised enough for its depth of feeling, wisdom and understanding of the human condition. It is, in its own way, a long love letter to a part of the world that has been torn apart over and over again -- like some figure in a classical myth -- by war, bigotry, ignorance and, it must be said, religious intolerance. It is also a vivid, compassionate and heartbreaking meditation on community, and could easily serve as an allegory for all of human history in its joys and sorrows. This novel, as has long been noted by past critics, more or less single-handedly won for its author the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961, and yet somehow in our time, less than a half-century later, it seems to be almost completely forgotten. How could a book of such obvious power and significance for the human race be relegated to almost total obselesence in such a short time? That is a question I couldn't possibly attempt to answer here, although many knee-jerk responses come to mind, not the least of which is the simple fact that we as a culture simply don't place much value on reading in general anymore.

But to all you serious readers out there, anyone who still values and appreciates the significance of literature and its power to mold and shape our intellectual, moral and even spiritual lives (both as children and as adults), I have this urgent message, in case you hadn't heard: Ivo Andric's epic novel The Bridge on the Drina is without a doubt one of the most important novels of the 20th century, and deserves a place next to other modern national epics such as Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude, Laxness' Independent People and Rushdie's Midnight's Children on the Great Bookshelf of Civilization.

Ivo who? The Drina what?

If that's your reaction to what I just wrote, well, I can only nod and admit that I reacted the same way when I first heard the novel referred to (when or where, I can't for the life of me recall now). As should be obvious by now to readers of TST, I am drawn to books (fiction or non-fiction) about other countries, other races and other cultures, because I believe that no one people or ideology holds a monopoly on truth, and that because we share a common human condition, we can all learn from each other's accumulated wisdom. I feel that my world and my consciousness have been expanded by reading authors such as Dostoevsky, Hugo, Marquez, Shusaku Endo, Tarjei Vesaas, Kafka, Laxness, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Wislawa Szymborska, and others that have already been discussed in this blog. If I happen to read about a novel or non-fiction work from another culture that seems to be highly regarded or is considered a classic, I'm almost certainly going to be interested in it, and in the author. Some examples of writers from other countries that I have heard much about and look forward to reading one day are Bruno Schulz (from Poland), Orhan Pamuk (Turkey), and Ismail Kadare (Albania).

Regardless of where I may have heard about Andric's book, as soon as I was able to get my hands on a copy and begin reading it, I knew I was reading a world classic. There are certain rare books in which you can tell, even within the first few pages, that you are reading something that will stay with you for a long long time, maybe even for the rest of your life. This is definitely that kind of book. One thing that is interesting to me is that very often, when it comes to the kind of book I'm describing, it's very hard to actually put one's finger on precisely why the book is so valuable and rewarding: is it the complex plot? The vividly drawn characters? The quality of the prose? Usually it is all of that, yes, but it's also a case of the whole being so much greater than the sum of its parts. Literature is an art form, and like any art, its effect is more to be felt than analyzed. The ultimate aim of any true work of art is always the heart, not the head.

Some books strike you in an intellectual way, such as the one I am reading now (The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture by Shane Hipps). But some books grab you by the heart and don't let go, or they punch you in the gut, or both. In the case of The Bridge on the Drina, I can't think of a book that's more successful in terms of getting the reader to relate to and empathize with the people of a specific region -- people of not only different races, but different religions, ideologies, and generations as well. And we all know that this particular region of Eastern Europe, the area comprising the countries of Bosnia, Yugoslavia and Montenegro, is one that has endured almost unimaginable sufferings over the course of many centuries. Andric's epic of course brings us face to face with these brutal realities, yet it somehow still maintains a hopeful outlook, even though its central symbol (which is in many ways the protagonist of the book, the bridge itself) meets its inevitable destruction in the final chapters of the novel. How is this possible? It's possible because Andric is so skilled at getting us to know and care for the poor, longsuffering Muslims, Christians and Jews that inhabit the villages surrounding the bridge, that we quite simply believe in their inherent goodness and will to survive, no matter what tragedies befall them. Andric never shies away at all from the political, religious and racial rivalries and animosities that continue to threaten to undo all that has been built up in these regions, yet he penetrates far deeper beneath these layers and gets to the soul of the people -- the common ties that bind us to one another, whether we want to recognize that or not.

This is an incredible novel that deals with issues of great complexity, and yet manages to remain at heart a very human story. It covers several hundred years of history and touches on politics, religion, love, death, local mythologies and folklore, fear and hatred, acts of incredible self-sacrifice and unthinkable human cruelty. It vividly conveys a sense of place, love of homeland and the sustaining power of community. It justly celebrates the endurance and vitality of not only the people of Bosnia/Hersegovnia, but also of the human spirit. For this reason I am confident that it will long endure as a classic of world literature, and I hope that anyone who reads this post will seriously consider reading the book for themselves. I can guarantee that if you do, it is a decision you will not regret.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 12

Well, my man Duke has been tied up with other stuff, so.....

Walter Brogan: Early Sketches, Indiana, 1920s

In this edition of my journal, I am going to put the concept to work a little bit by recording some earlier speculations/sketches of the story of Walter Brogan. Hopefully I won't be giving away too much of what will eventually become my story, but I have a lot of just vague ideas and concepts kicking around my head, and I'd like to air some of them out. This journal seems to be the place to do it. And hey, nobody reads this anyway.

Originally my intention was to write exclusively about the 1930s and the Depression, and that is where most of my research has taken me. But I see now that you can't just take the Depression years of 1929-1942(3?) and put them in their own little box and that's it. I could limit the events of the story chronologically only to the 1930s, but there would still have to at least some backstory from the previous decade. And for that to happen I need to know about the 1920s also. Some of this I have read about already. I am hoping I will get a lot more specifics from the next book I read, coming up soon, Indiana Through Tradition and Change, 1920-1945. Seems reasonable to expect that I will.

The part of that era that really interests me, at least at the moment, is the period between 1929, when the stock market crash first occurred, and say, 1932, when just about everyone knew and felt that there was a Depression going on. It doesn't seem to have been an instantaneous thing in small town, middle-Western America. I think it probably took at least a year for the effects of the crash to ripple out to an area like western Indiana. But it also has to be remembered that this area was largely agricultural, and the farm community was already in hard times when the Depression hit. The 20s didn't roar for farmers, they were already getting hammered. It just got worse in the 30s. So a lot of the people in the part of the state that Walter Brogan would have lived in were already living under economic hardship. What about Brogan himself? What kind of situation was he in?

Warning: Early Story Fragments! This may ruin some parts of a story that has not yet been written by a writer who's never written a real novel before! Ask yourself if it is worth the risk!

Brogan's no farmer, not having come from that sort of background. His father, Claudius, was a salesman. He died, however, when Brogan was 18, and Brogan did not attend college, opting instead to return home and work to help support his mother and other siblings. Brogan kicked around from job to job until meeting Greta Heinricks, his eventual wife. Her father, H. L. Heinricks, was a restaurant owner in the Indiana town of Bentonville, but he was also an entrepeneur and opportunist. When it becomes clear that Walter Brogan and his daughter have intentions to be married, Heinricks conceives of a plan to add to his businesses by purchasing a gas station and a small motel in the same town. He has foreseen the boom of the automobile industry and realizes that the town is a potential pit stop for those on the road between Chicago, IL and Indianapolis. As a means of assisting the young couple, soon to be married, Heinricks tells Brogan he will offer him the job of running the gas station. This employs the young man and keeps his daughter in the general area. This is how Brogan is able to establish himself in early adult life, thanks to the vision of his father in law.

My story, then, would open in the early 1920s with the wedding of Walter Brogan and Greta Heinricks. Things would begin optimistically. I picture a small town stone church, little wedding ceremony and a restaurant reception. Brogan and his new wife settle down in Bentonville in a tiny house and begin a new life, with Brogan ganifully employed. But then certain pressures come to bear on the young man. It's 1924 or so and the Ku Klux Klan has rapidly risen to power all across the state. Surprisingly, their main target is not black people - there are very few of them in Indiana. No, the Klan's main targets are Catholics, and also Jews. Brogan's father in law is not only a prominent businessman, but he is also a Catholic - and German. Anti-German zeal lingers from the end of the World War. Of course, that makes Brogan's wife Catholic and German too. What might have happened? Did the Klan take action against Heinricks? Did they try to run him and his businesses out of Bentonville, and thereby attempt to ruin Brogan in the process?

I think you start with questions like this, and your story becomes a way for you to find some answers. At least, that's what I am hoping will be the case. I don't think anything like I suggested above happened to my own grandfather, at least not as far as I know, but it's possible that some things like this could have. That's all I wanted to get into in exploring this material. What was going on in that part of the country during that era. Because these are the conditions and situations that my own Dad came out of, and I just find that to be interesting. They're so fundmentally different from the way things were when I grew up, in a totally different place and in a vastly different time. And they're NOTHING like what my kids are growing up into. Writing this kind of story is a way to go back and rediscover an era that is lost to us now.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 11

FDR, Walter Brogan, and Floyd Lovell

As I make my way through to the end of Stud Terkel's lengthy oral history of the Depression called "Hard Times", there is a great deal there to consider and muse on, but some things come through more strongly than others in reading about the stories of so many different Americans. One of those things is that the views people had of the President of the United States through most of the Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt, were ALL OVER THE MAP. The opinions of this man seemed to vary so widely across the United States, even though he was popularly elected four times, that you can't possibly conclude anything other than that he was a complicated, ambitious, enigmatic man. Depending on who Terkel was talking to, I have been reading about him as a savior, Communist, hero, criminal, devil, angel, visionary, complete buffoon, savvy politician, outright lunatic, or just about anything else. Kind of reminds me of what people say about Ronald Reagan too, closer to my generation.

Roosevelt was a man whose fate led him to the perfect moment in time when the nation needed someone, ANYONE, to step up with some fresh ideas and provide enthusiasm and optimism, and he had the ability to see the moment for what it was and seize it. He was the Democratic governor of New York who rose from relative obscurity on the basis of his observation that the people wanted their government to take ACTION, and they were not getting any of it from the guy sitting in the White House (Herbert Hoover). Hoover exacerbated the problem by assuring people that brighter days were "just around the corner" and that they should basically hang in there and stay the course and the ship would right itself if you allowed the system to work. His famous "chicken in every pot" comment came back to bite him when people were all out of work and something that looked a lot like poverty descended on much of the country. FDR stood up in Chicago in July 1932 to accept the Democratic nomination for President and said he was propsing a "new deal" to the American people, and the rest has become history.

This is the guy that made my Dad into a lifelong Democrat, I would guess, a guy who came in and took some steps to make things better rather than what the Republicans of the time were doing, which was not a whole lot. It's interesting how there were similarities between the philosophies of the respective parties towards the role of government to what you find today: Democrats were for broad, large-scale government intervention to the point where the Federal Government played an every day role in people's lives. This is the period that Social Security and Welfare came from. Republicans, on the other hand, wanted the government to interfere with people's lives as little as possible, and to leave as much as they could in the hands of the working men and women of the country to guide their own lives. The problem was, nobody was working. And this was a case in time where the government, in hindsight, clearly HAD to intervene. They did, passing tons of legislation in the first 100 days of Roosevelt's presidency and essentially putting millions of people back to work. From this era the Democratic party came to be seen as "on the side of the little man" by rescuing a great number of people from poverty and unemployment. From the time my Dad was 2 years old to his early 20s, Democrats ran the country and led us through Depression and colossal World War.

Thinking about all of this made me wonder which side of the fence my grandfather, Floyd, would have been on, and hence to try to imagine what sort of view a guy like Walter Brogan might have towards FDR and politics in general. I don't really know the answer. My grandfather wasn't a farmer, and it doesn't seem like he ever suffered from unemployment outright, even in the 1930s, so it's tough to say whether he directly benefitted from any New Deal programs. He seemed to have steady employment in the oil industry throughout the 1930s and early 40s. And the oil industry itself went through a massive boom in the 1920s, moreso in states like Oklahoma and Texas than Indiana, but I don't think that industry in particular ever had it very rough because of the industrialization of the country and the emergence of the automobile. So he had a job. He didn't have to apply for federal relief that I know of, and he never had to stand in a bread line. I doubt there were any bread lines in a small town like Fowler, Indiana, and I don't know if any other grand sign of the Depression hit in that town such as the failure of local banks. But did Floyd feel sympathetic to those who DID have to stand in lines, or did he think more down Republican lines that Federal relief was a hand-out, a free ride, and one that eventually would steal away the fight and spirit of the American worker, to the point where they expected it? The Welfare State, in other words - which DID come to pass in some places and in some times. What did Floyd think of the New Deal? Did he even think about it at all or simply try to get by and provide for his family and roll with the times?

Something makes me feel like he might not have liked FDR much, that he might have been disillusioned by his charismatic speeches, his "fireside chats", but I really don't know if that's the case. Perhaps he saw him as the hero others did. It would not surprise me if he would not have agreed with the politics his eldest son would, but I seroiusly doubt they ever got into it very much. They seemed to have little to talk about whenever they were together, which, after my Dad turned 18, was not very often, from what I can tell.

If Brogan was in the oil industry, keeping a steady job, trying to keep his company in the black in a time when the Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, was given unprecedented powers to regulate the oil industry so as to keep the economy rolling steady, then it seems to me that there might be a good chance that he wasn't a big fan of Roosevelt or the New Deal. But was he necessarily a Republican? Would he have voted for someone like Alf Landon in 1936 (Governor of Kansas, who got severely pummeled)? Or would he have been attracted to more radical points of view, such as socialism? Remember, this was a time when many people thought that the "American system" was in its death throes, and bound to collapse entirely.....people were becoming organized, radicalized.......

I am going to have to question my Dad about what he knows about Floyd's politics. It seems to be some crucial background for the formation of the character of Walter Brogan. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #27

Here's a mindbender from a writer known for mindbenders, the great Argentinian poet and short story wizard Jorge Luis Borges. Borges is probably best known for the latter (his short stories), which don't seem to have any parallel in modern times... but he was also a prolific and gifted poet. He loved to plumb the depths of the ineffable, the unsearchable mysteries of realms physical and metaphysical, in his art... and few mysteries this side of heaven are more deep and profound than the darkness of the night. Here is his fascinating take on a natural phenomenon that has been vexing us since the first man stepped out of his cave and gazed dumbstruck at the stars. (I love the inspired phrase "inexhaustible/like an ancient wine".)


History of the Night

Throughout the course of the generations
men constructed the night.
At first she was blindness;
thorns raking bare feet,
fear of wolves.
We shall never know who forged the word
for the interval of shadow
dividing the two twilights;
we shall never know in what age it came to mean
the starry hours.
Others created the myth.
They made her the mother of the unruffled Fates
that spin our destiny,
they sacrificed black ewes to her, and the cock
who crows his own death.
The Chaldeans assigned to her twelve houses;
to Zeno, infinite words.
She took shape from Latin hexameters
and the terror of Pascal.
Luis de Leon saw in her the homeland
of his stricken soul.
Now we feel her to be inexhaustible
like an ancient wine
and no one can gaze on her without vertigo
and time has charged her with eternity.

And to think that she wouldn't exist
except for those fragile instruments, the eyes.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 10

Still Researching!

Research for my fiction project continues unabated, and it has been a great deal of fun and informative as all get-out so far. I feel as though I have learned quite a bit about the Depression and the solutions/steps taken by the government and by regular people to combat its effects. Right now I am working my way through a lengthy collection called "Hard Times", not the Dickens novel (Dickensfest V is later this summer or fall), but an oral history of the Depression compiled by the legendary Chicago radio man Studs Terkel. Oral histories may seem touch and go, depending on who is doing the storytelling I guess, but it is a great way to get multiple voices on whatever the topic is. And in the case of Terkel's book, which was published in 1970 (the year I was born), "multiple voices" is putting it mildly. He interviewed literally hundreds of people for the book and they are from ALL walks of life, different races, social classes, occupations, and even different generations. He frequently talks to children of people who made their way through the Depression (like I am) and gathered their impressions together as well. Reading the stories of people from such a diverse cross-section of the United States is fascinating and helps me to glean a kind of general picture of the "state of the nation" during this era. It is interesting to note that in a lot of cases, people didn't suffer financially from the Depression. Some people, fortunate ones, had the opposite experience. The movie industry flourished, for example (they could probably use some of that excess now given the box office figures in this day and age). Some businessmen made a lot of money from selling stocks 'short'. Those who knew how to take advantage of the situation did the best, but most Americans just wanted to be put to work and make a living for themselves and those close to them. A common theme in the stories is the desire to be working and the dignity and self-confidence that having gainful employment brought to people.

Next up for me in the research is the Indiana-specific volume "Indiana Through Tradition and Change: 1920-1945" which should really help me narrow down on the specific region I want to set my tale in. I am looking forward to that a great deal. I probably know next to nothing about Indiana history, but my father sure will recognize a lot of things in the book, I am sure. Since it focuses on the state itself, and doesn't address the national situation as much, I am sure it will give me plenty of details to make my story, set in Indiana, credible. At least, that is the hope, and it sounds good on paper (or online)......

Question: How Am I Going to Do This?

I saw a friend over the weekend who knows I am involved in research for a "novel". He hasn't read much of what I write and I am sure he is wondering how I could possibly expect to pull this off, to really write a credible novel. He said to me something down the lines of, "It is going to be interesting to see how you plan do this." He's right, it is going to be interesting. I don't think he doesn't think I am capable of doing it. But he's right to wonder how.....the next logical question, which he didn't ask, is "How ARE you going to go about it?" That's a darn good question. If he had asked me I would have said, "I'm looking forward to finding that out."

By way of response to this question, I will attempt to make a few observations. I think the way to get to where I want to go is not to have a map. Or at least, not a formal one. Over the years I have thought very, very often - probably more so than is healthy, really - about how to write a novel. That's just the sort of thing I think about, what can I say. Another friend who I went to grad school with me once observed that he lives "constantly" in his "writer's world". I think I am like that too. It doesn't mean I am a "real" "writer", but it means I think of things more often than not in terms of story or writing or future writing or what it would be like to write about whatever that thing is. Odd stories I hear, true or not, will suggest writing topics to me. Gatherings or family events almost always suggest journal writing or some kind of way to preserve experiences in some written way. Reading books suggest new topics for exploration in fiction in nonfiction. Ditto films. What I am trying to say is to confirm that adage that "everything is grist", which I don't remember who to attribute to. (Duke probably would know.)

With this kind of brain, for what it is worth (to this point, not much), I also spend a lot of time reading the work of and learning about other writers: those gone before me or masters of the present that I admire. And one of the things I always hear from the writers that I admire the most has to do with how one gets a novel or work of fiction going. Many writers may work with a complete outline or a chapter-by-chapter "plan". But the ones I admire the most either for their artistry or their values (and in the best cases, both) don't seem to. They seem to begin with an idea, an impression, a small 'scene', a moment. They attempt to write that down, and then follow it where it leads. Sounds easy, right? Of course it is not, as anyone who has ever tried to write fiction can attest to, but nonetheless I think that this is the way to work. There has to be an allowance for the creative process of writing to do what it does - both on the page itself, when you are writing, and off the page, when you are NOT writing. The subconscious mind will work on your story even while you are not actually writing the story. I have learned this to be true through my experience with writing stories. You think about it, you work it over day by day, and it kind of works you over at the same time.

So, I am not saying that I have absolutely no idea what I want my Indiana story to be about; this blog has stated otherwise. I have some general ideas as far as the period of time I want it to cover, and who at least two of the main characters in the book are - Walter Brogan, the main character, and his son, Father Luke Brogan, S.J. [Names subject to change] And I also have some vague ideas around how I want the book to be structured, where the part of the "novel" that centers on Walter Brogan's life will begin (circa 1922 or so) and where I want his story to end (circa 1960 or so). But I don't want to do a WHOLE lot more 'planning' about the plot of the book or the specific events that will take place in it. I just want to begin writing about this character and let it flow. My hope is that with enough research I will get some sense of the world I want to create for these people, and with that some ideas of how they might have gone about their lives. Then I want to find a place that might be a good place to begin - a particular setting and scene, make an attempt to write that scene, and go with that.

Will it work? Hell, I don't know. But I think it is as good a method as any. I think there is a whole subconscious part of this story waiting to be unearthed from my imagination. I think these characters can be brought up from my mental substrata and breathed through with life. The question is whether I will have the stamina and the will and the vision to actually do that digging. The persistence to ride through those days, and I know them, when NOTHING you write works and the entire story seems like it's empty, meaningless and trite. Or when you just do not know WHERE to take it. I think persistance is the main quality that is needed with a project like this - perseverance, determination, drive, whatever you want to call it. I don't have this in a lot of areas in my life but I feel like I do have it when it comes to this.

Does that mean I am going to get this done? Not necessarily, time will tell if I have what it takes. Someone I know once commented to me recently that what I am talking about doing is a "major undertaking". And so it is.

That's how I want it.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #26 -- Lent 2006

Well, I suppose this had to happen some time... summon up all your courage, all ye faithful TST readers!

This week I wanted to post a poem that had a Lenten theme, seeing as today happens to be the day after Ash Wednesday, the second day of Lent 2006... as we enter into this traditional period of penitence, sacrifice, fasting and almsgiving in preparation for the holiest season of the Church year, I thought it might be useful/inspirational to offer some words of wisdom from an experienced poet that could help to focus our minds and hearts on what Jesus endured on our behalf...

...unfortunately, no such poets were available, so I had to call on an amateur for help... had to call upon the scrub team... the understudy of the understudy of the understudy...

Seriously, I feel pretty sheepish doing this, but seeing as I did want my theme to be Lent, and not finding a poem that was a perfect fit in my own collection/searching around... and realizing that I had written a poem myself with Lent as its theme/subject... well, what the heck. Why try to explain or justify myself any longer? Here is my own brief meditation on Lent for this week's poem. I don't promise brilliance here, only sincerity, and a mind/heart that yearns (in my better moments) for a deeper understanding of the Church's great mysteries. In this particular poem, I was going for a chant-type rhythm (obviously, although I'm not sure I achieved that), and also was expressing my fascination over the fact that we get our modern word "quarantine" from the Latin for "forty"... I thought it was interesting how when we quarantine someone, we separate them from all others... as Jesus once "separated" Himself from everyone to do spiritual battle with Satan... I thought there were some interesting connections to explore there, and this was my attempt to do so. The poem was scribbled back in 2001.

I hope readers will forgive the outrageous presumption of including a poem of mine within this series of masters... obviously my intention is not to identify myself with such illustrious company!?! My only goal here is to post something that brings to mind the holy season we are entering into, and helps us think about what we might want to sacrifice for ourselves to "prepare the way of the Lord" in our own hearts.


Quarantine: A Lenten Chant

quar an tine (n.): from the Latin "quaranta" = forty; 1. A period of forty days... 4. A state of enforced isolation.

Forty days of desert wind
and biting sand to scrape your skin.

Forty days to rub you raw
with loneliness and hunger’s gnaw.

Forty days devoid of rain
to quench your thirst and ease your pain.

Forty days of searing sun –
a test for greater trials to come.

Forty days for you to doubt
that Spirit which had led you out.

Forty days of suffering’s scourge
and hesitations, harshly purged.

Forty days to try your soul
while Satan vied for your control.

Forty days so long endured
to make good on your father’s Word.