It’s been around a year since I first heard Fleet Foxes’ “The Shrine/An Argument,” and I’m still in love with it. So is my husband, who said this morning, “I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that [this] is one of the best songs ever… It’s everything amazing all rolled into one.” And that’s coming from a sometimes agonizingly picky musician.

If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s definitely folk, reminiscent of ’60s groups like Simon and Garfunkel, but refreshed by non-folk elements like the free jazz bit at the end. It’s mysterious and ambient, unexpected and austere, progressive without being off-putting. It’s deeply, tenderly spiritual in a personal, unsentimental, non-evangelistic way. It’s flakes of sunlight, dark caverns, green apples, hidden pools, gray ghosts of fog drifting along the chill northwestern coastline. It physically hurts — like lovesickness — to hear it. Robin Pecknold singing, “Sunlight over me no matter what I do,” stretching out his pretty-folk-singer voice to release a brief, hoarse cry, gives me chills. The lovesickness is for those wafts of simplicity and purity and the kind of primal spirituality that escapes language and ritual, that’s only observation and feeling, that come in certain pensive moments I wish I could gather up and cling to, but that inevitably slip away the moment I recognize them for what they are.

“The Shrine/An Argument” also has an incredible music video directed by Sean Pecknold (Robin’s older brother and the man behind Grandchildren.tv). The video, like the song, is eerily mythic, at once surreal and earth-bound. Listen to the song with your eyes closed first, then watch the video below.

Colossus of Rhodes, a 16th century engraving by Martin Heemskerck

More good news! American Athenaeum, the literary journal I’ve been helping to curate for the past several months, is just about ready to release its first issue, Colossus. It won’t be released until July, but we are taking pre-orders for print, e-book and PDF versions of the issue here. I’m proud of this work and excited to share our contributors’ stories, poems and essays, so I hope you’ll buy a copy and check it out.

In celebration and for the sake of general enjoyment, a Wallace Stevens poem I love:

“The Latest Freed Man”

Tired of the old descriptions of the world,
The latest freed man rose at six and sat
On the edge of his bed. He said,
“I suppose there is
A doctrine to this landscape. Yet, having just
Escaped from the truth, the morning is color and mist,
Which is enough: the moment’s rain and sea,
The moment’s sun (the strong man vaguely seen),
Overtaking the doctrine of this landscape. Of him
And of his works, I am sure. He bathes in the mist
Like a man without a doctrine. The light he gives–
It is how he gives his light. It is how he shines,
Rising upon the doctors in their beds
And on their beds…”
And so the freed man said.
It was how the sun came shining into his room:
To be without a description of to be,
For a moment on rising, at the edge of the bed, to be,
To have the ant of the self changed to an ox
With its organic boomings, to be changed
From a doctor into an ox, before standing up,
To know that the change and that the ox-like struggle
Come from the strength that is the strength of the sun,
Whether it comes directly or from the sun.
It was how he was free. I twas how his freedom came.
It was being without description, being an ox.
It was the importance of the trees outdoors,
The freshness of the oak-leaves, not so much
That they were oak-leaves, as the way they looked.
It was everything being more real, himself
At the centre of reality, seeing it.
It was everything bulging and blazing and big in itself,
The blue of the rug, the portrait of Vidal,
Qui fait fi des joliesses banales, the chairs.

Great news! Two of my poems have been accepted for publication in the Women Writing Nature issue of Sugar Mule. Sugar Mule is an online literary magazine headed by M.L. Weber. Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, author of Work Is Love Made Visible and editor of Mongrel Empire Press, is the guest editor for this issue.

Much of my work addresses human interactions with nature or explores human issues through the lens of the natural world, so the Sugar Mule issue seemed like a great home for my first published pieces. I’m glad they agree. The poems to be published, “A Series of Poems On the Theme of a Blue Jay” and “Song of the Orchid Cultivar,” are fairly new poems of mine and explore themes of love, regret, foreignness and connections.

I keep telling people that I’m not a poet, that I write some poetry but mostly fiction, but the poetry thing keeps sticking to me. Granted, it was my first love, and some might say that I approach even my fiction as if it were poetry (for better or worse). I still don’t know that I’d brand myself a poet, but this recent news makes me a little more willing to admit it as a legitimate aspect of my writing life, rather than just a hobby.

The Women Writing Nature issue of Sugar Mule will be published in July 2012. I’ll post a link when it comes out. Until then, I highly recommend checking out past issues of Sugar Mule. And if you’re a new visitor to Something Looseknit and want a taste of my creative work, feel free to click the links below:

A Simple Poem
A Plain Thing” (flash fiction)
and another untitled poem.

From the editor-in-chief of the new literary journal I’ve been working on:

 

At American Athenaeum, we’re asking writers to adopt an endangered species. You may already know of an endangered animal or can research one that is endangered (or one that is already extinct) and write a story about it. We’ll accept fiction and non-fiction. We are seeking well-crafted, well-researched stories, ones that speak on behalf of the animal/species. Who will speak for the polar bear? Who will speak for the Cooper’s Hawk?

You should consider that your story may serve as a record of the species for future generations. So write it with detail. Show the species, its habitat, livelihood and so on. “Adoption” of a species is a way to be part of the solution, to use your skills as a writer to promote awareness. You might also blog about the species you’ve adopted, make T-shirts, get a tattoo, or end up starting a foundation — really, there is no limit to how much you can do when you adopt an animal.

The Endangered Species Act was made law in 1973. There is hope for saving many species. Species can be plant, animal, reptile, insect, and so on, but not humans. You might choose one on the list in your own state (see list below). You might buy an Endangered Species chocolate bar and start with the animal on the package @  http://chocolatebar.com/.

We are also looking for stories dealing with the environment. Maybe you want to tell a story about Earth Day or a community garden (also good for our community issue) or from the point of view of a logger or a whale. It’s open; your imagination is the limit. Lastly, we also have a column called “Doorstep Activist” that seeks submissions about what you’re doing in your neighborhood to make positive changes. Tell us about it in 500-1000 words @ http://www.swordandsagapress.com/American-Athenaeum.php.

Here are a few places listing endangered species.
http://www.earthsendangered.com/list.asp
http://www.earthsendangered.com/
http://www.fws.gov/endangered/
http://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/ESACT.HTML

Thanks for your support with this. Please spread the word to your animal-loving friends.
Hunter Liguore
Editor-in-chief

This was released about a month ago, so I’m a little late in sharing it, but it’s better late than never, right? It’s a great song. Enjoy!

“WU LYF” is an acronym for World Unite/Lucifer Youth Federation — “Lucifer” in this case adhering to the title’s original meaning, “bringer of light” (initially used to refer to the morning star), with a tongue-in-cheek, rebellious nod to its modern connotations. They’re from Manchester, England, and say they play “heavy pop.”

In a world that’s often more politicized and “moral” than compassionate and free, this is an important, necessary song. It calls us back to our roots as animals, as creatures existing without all the nonsense of ideologies and campaigns and the pointless back-biting that’s caused by those things. It’s about being connected and realizing that connection, not to the suits we wear (what religion we follow, how much money we have, what we do for a living, which political party we support, how we look, who we love, and so on), but to each other just because we are. It’s about getting back to that primordial sensitivity we seem to have forgotten — a sensitivity both to the people around us and to ourselves, our own innocent impulses. The song (the entire album, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, in fact) is one of those rare gestures that gives us permission to really be ourselves, to fully feel out our humanity without shame. And that’s important, at least to me.

 

This ship’s set sail,
set sail on you and me.
This ship’s set sail;
I just wanted to be free.

So maybe we will fail,
fail to not see;
maybe we will fail,
but at least we will be free.

You stand so holy;
Nah, don’t sit down.
Join the feet all marching
across the ground.

This place so lonely,
but, nah, don’t settle down;
just hear the beat drown over
all this lonesome sound.

It’s a sad song that makes a man put
money before life,
a sad song that puts a man up for sale,
a sad song that make a man put
money before life.
How many asses are you gonna have to sell?

We were born as animals.
We were born as animals and we bros,
but you put suits on animals;
you try to put suits on animals, but we bros.

We bros, you lost man.
We bros so long.
Put away your guns, man,
and sing this song.

And I said the mountain won’t go falling
if your still willing to climb,
but when the mountain goes falling,
true riches you will find.

Nah, we were born as animals,
born as animals and we bros,
but you put suits on animals;
you try to put suits on animals, but we bros.

We bros, you lost man.
We bros so long.
Put away your guns, man,
and sing this song.
_________________________

For more from WU LYF, check out their site here. I also recommend this really great article from Spinner.

A very good friend of mine, Hunter Liguore, is heading up a new literary journal, American Athenaeum, which will contain “a variety of fiction and poetry, along with regular columns that run the gamut of American arts. We consider this journal to be a museum of artistic endeavors, filled with cultural appreciation and stories that not only teach, but demonstrate the frailty of the human condition” (from the Sword and Saga Press website).

There are five themed issues and one general issue, and the call for submissions goes out for all of them. I’m the managing editor for the Compassion/Epsilon issue, so I’ll be selfish and request that you particularly consider submitting to that one, but all issues are equally valuable and in need of stories, poems and essays. We’re also interested in art submissions to give the issues some visual punch. Click this link to access the American Athenaeum homepage, where you’ll find all the information and links you’ll need to submit. Submissions are made electronically through Submishmash, which is free, easy to use and environmentally friendly. ^_^

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or fill out the contact form on the AA website linked above. We look forward to reading your work!

In the quiet dark,
His kisses are all that is—
Pinpricks of fire.

Exile of the Deer, Tricia Cline. Porcelain. 2008.

I recently stumbled upon Tricia Cline’s porcelain sculptures (thank you, art pinners on Pinterest!). Her work has a quality that I tend to (mostly subconsciously) seek out and appreciate in all art forms — an otherworldliness, often lovely, but a little strange, unsettling, maybe creepy, though not in any particularly obvious way. Which is, incidentally, how many of my stories have been described. I guess it’s my thing. Anyway, I went to her website and became even more fascinated by her work after reading the artist’s statement for her most recent series of sculptures, Exiles in Lower Utopia. It’s beautifully worded, so instead of paraphrasing, I’m providing it below in its entirety:

This body of work is an ode to the Animal, its ability to perceive, and our return to that perception. An animal is its very form. Its function is its form. A dog runs at full speed, a distinct scent or sound alters its direction. The legs, the nose, the ears of the dog are its function, its bliss. When an animal recognizes another animal it reads with an instinctual eye the character in the form- the essential nature in the form before it. Its text is not a concept about what it’s looking at but a full-bodied response to the shape, smell, movement, and stance of the image in front of it. The language of animals is the language of images. An image is not an idea with a defined meaning, it is itself an animal. 

This is the ode–to reconnect with our own animal perception is to clarify and heighten our perception of who and what we are in the moment… to go beyond the limited mental concepts of who we think we are… to an awareness of oneself that is infinitely more vast. The Exiles migrate between the human world and the animal world and carry this awareness on their backs. They are the silent embodiment of this Quest. They understand the language of animals and are self-appointed ambassadors from that world. They are firmly seated, in the language of animals, the language of imagery. They have succeeded by virtue of being.

The key points for me are: 1) to read something by its image is not necessarily to limit because “an image is not an idea with a defined meaning, it is itself an animal,” and 2) reconnecting with our animal selves is a task that, rather than taking us backward, moves us forward into a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe. By understanding an image (that is, one’s perception of a thing) as an animal itself — something complex, evasive and in constant movement — on its own terms, rather than trying to define and redefine it through static statements that ultimately fall short, we come closer to seeing things as they truly are. In this way, Cline’s Exiles function as envoys and icons to remind us of our secret, truer selves whose virtues are merely being and seeing.

Literature has its place on this path as well, in spite of its form being limited to words (which is what makes writing so difficult — it’s the least sensual medium of all). As with other art forms, the key to creating truthful literature is to create images, and to do this, one must avoid making direct statements about things. We have to beat around the bush, to talk around a subject — not to evade, but to more clearly illustrate the ineffable. Creating literature — stories, poetry, essays, plays — is not about making some single, absolute declaration; it’s about creating, out of nothing, those image-animals that breathe on their own, that have layers of secrets and truths. It is to create something that allows others to create their own image-animals.

Flannery O’Connor said in her speech-turned-essay “The Nature and Aim of Fiction”: “It’s always necessary to remember that the fiction writer is less immediately concerned with grand ideas and bristling emotions than he is with putting list slippers on clerks” because the truth of the clerk is best communicated by literal details like his wearing list slippers than any abstract and frankly stated “grand ideas and bristling emotions”  that a writer might thrust on him. We humans are sensual creatures, just like the other animals around us, and in spite of our impressive ability to think abstractly, we still (and have always and will always) respond most strongly to that which we perceive through our senses. And so it is through complex, free and living images liberated from vain abstractions (e.g. “bad,” “ugly,” “moral,” “beautiful”) that we perceive truth. Our labor is to see things as they are — in all their complexity — and then hold our tongues, rather than whittle them down to concrete, abstract terms.

You can view more of Cline’s images on her website (linked above). And you’re welcome to share your thoughts on her work (and my words) below.

My husband and I recently had a discussion/debate with a friend of ours who, on the subject of legislating compassion (or, more specifically, legislating in the name of compassion), pretty much said that without all of our elevated, civilized, moral compassion, we’d be “nothing more than animals.” While I’m a big proponent of compassion, I don’t think our morals necessarily make us more compassionate, and I think that there’s often as much compassion in non-action as there is in action, which is to say that sometimes not doing something is more compassionate and beneficial than blindly forging ahead (although, really, the best route is to combine the two with careful discernment).

I also don’t think it’s a bad thing to try to be more like animals, to get in touch with our animal sides. After all, animals aren’t the ones destroying our environment and each other on a species-wide level; they aren’t the ones enslaving each other (except for the slavemaker ants, of course); they aren’t afflicted by the overwhelming greed and viciousness that plagues humanity. If animals are greedy, it’s on a limited, usually reasonable level; if they are violent, it’s for survival — not spite. Animals are the innocent ones. And, really, whether we want to admit it or not, we are animals — complex, astoundingly creative animals, but still animals. I’m not saying that humanity is the lowest of the low in terms of animal virtues, but I do think it’s pompous to assume we’re that much more morally elevated above the rest of the natural world just because we can build complex tools and think in terms of the imaginary and intangible. I think art, which is arguably a uniquely human construct (although it depends on how you define art and whether or not the female bowerbird’s appreciation of her male’s bower can be considered artistic appreciation), is great; I think technology can be great. But I also think that what makes (human) art great is that it expresses and seeks to explore our deepest animal impulses; the best art gets us in touch with our animal selves and analyzes it, rather than denying it. And technology is really just a complex result of our basic animal survival instincts.

I think compassion is the greatest and most necessary quality a person could have, but I don’t like “morals” because they’re prescribed. It’s cold legislation rather than natural compassion, which comes from an organic and personal impulse. Compassion is simple and small and daily — not some elevated, authorized virtue. In its purest form, as in the animal world, compassion is unconscious and exhibited on an animal-to-animal basis. And while not all animals are compassionate in the way we define it, they’re not uncompassionate, either. As I’ve said above, they don’t hate; they aren’t (with few possible exceptions) unnecessarily cruel.

Anyway, the discussion reminded me of a Wallace Stevens poem I love:

“Less and Less Human, O Savage Spirit”

If there must be a god in the house, must be,
Saying things in the rooms and on the stair,

Let him move as the sunlight moves on the floor,
Or moonlight, silently, as Plato’s ghost

Or Aristotle’s skeleton. Let him hang out
His stars on the wall. He must dwell quietly.

He must be incapable of speaking, closed,
As those are: as light, for all its motion, is;

As color, even the closest to us, is;
As shapes, though they portend us, are.

It is the human that is the alien,
The human that has no cousin in the moon.

It is the human that demands his speech
From beasts or from the incommunicable mass.

If there must be a god in the house, let him be one
That will not hear us when we speak: a coolness,

A vermillioned nothingness, any stick of the mass
Of which we are too distantly a part.

The only thing I would add to Stevens’ argument is that we aren’t naturally alien — we’ve made ourselves so — and that we can get back to that wholeness and freedom of being as long as we’re willing to loosen the noose of our morals, let wordlessness stand in for language (not forever and always, but more so than it does) and forget our pompous attitudes about our own superiority. If we can let ourselves be smaller, more quiet and basic, we’ll be closer to and more a part of that unlimited god that Stevens describes.

But I don’t harbor any illusions about doing away with law, society and technology and living like squirrels or bears. As our friend correctly said during our conversation, “The change has happened. We can’t go back.” I just think that we’d more benefit ourselves and the rest of the world if we tried to emulate the plant and animal life around us a little more, rather than trying (in vain) to conquer nature both beyond and within ourselves. I think we’d all be better-off without legislating and politicizing compassion — that is, deciding in black-and-white terms who is deserving of understanding and compassion and who isn’t and using that to justify political action. Because if we select an object for compassion, we’re necessarily denying compassion to something else. If we bring compassion down from the moral pedestal, stopped flinging it at other people like a weapon, and considered it on a personal, daily level (asking ourselves if we’re being indiscriminately compassionate enough and how we can be more compassionate, especially to the people whom we feel least deserve it), then the world really would be a better place. It’ll build on its own, but we have to build from the bottom, beginning with ourselves.

I think I should also say that my friend, if he were to read this, might not actually disagree with me. Sometimes when the three of us (myself, my husband and our friend) sit in a car together for too long, we start to disagree for the sake of disagreement — either because we’re playing the devil’s advocate and testing each others’ convictions or because we just want to get the other’s goat — which is how the whole compassion-and-animals discussion began in the first place. But it makes for a good blog post, I think.

Feel free to leave your comments below!