Monday, February 16, 2015

Writing on Winter Afternoons

Writing on Winter Afternoons

On some days, I love reading Emily Dickinson. But I have to be in a “mood” to read her. One of my favorite poems of hers is “A certain Slant of light.” Cold, empty winter afternoons remind me of this poem, and today is one such day. Enjoy:

“There’s a certain Slant of light”  
Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886

There’s a certain Slant of light,

Winter Afternoons – 

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes – 


Heavenly Hurt, it gives us – 

We can find no scar,

But internal difference,

Where the Meanings, are – 


None may teach it – Any – 

‘Tis the Seal Despair – 

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the Air – 


When it comes, the Landscape listens – 

Shadows – hold their breath – 

When it goes, ‘tis like the Distance

On the look of Death – 

I used to read this poem to my students when I taught American Literature. I use the word “read” instead of “teach” because—like Emily said—“None may teach it.” The poem is not a story. It is a feeling, a moment, an impression that comes when the winter seeps into one’s soul when the angled rays of the sun streams though a cold pane, casting crooked rectangles on the floor.

That moment forces my thoughts to freeze, almost as if I’ve been stunned. It comes from nowhere and leaves without warning, taking something of me with it, leaving a hollow space—at least for a while.

What good can a poem like that, or a feeling like that do for a writer? It fills her with “mood,” “setting,” “feelings,” and “ideas”—not the “story” of a book but the depth of a book. I welcome those moments, the ones that steal in like a thief, take what is theirs, and leave me with literary riches.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Small Towns...Speaking of Southern

When many people think about the South, they conjure up myriad small towns in their minds. And for good reasons. Small towns showcase what is special…and different about the South. Oh, you can get a good glass of sweet tea in a bigger city, but you might have to look a little harder for it. In a small town, you can walk into any Main Street diner and order a glass of sweet tea and know it will be great. Small towns are absolutely synonymous to this thing we call “Southern.”

In a small town, hospitality is the law. You simply must invite people over for dinner, take your neighbor a meal when it’s appropriate (there is a law about this, I think), invite near strangers into your home and treat them like family, and automatically accept all party and dinner invitations. It goes on and on, but you get the picture. Play nice (like in kindergarten).

You must choose a side for college football. Trust me. Even if you don’t like college football, you must pick a side. And if you want to truly fit in, buy a t-shirt with your team’s name emblazoned across your chest. If you try to get by without a home team, you will immediately be registered as an outsider.

In a big city, you can manage to appear respectable without going to church. Not so in a small town. Everyone goes to church—everyone respectable, that is. So, if you find yourself in a small town, you’ll be involved with “dinner on the ground,” “homecoming,” “camp meetin’,” “cake walks,” “Christmas shoeboxes,” “UMW,” “RA’s,” and a number of other unfamiliar vocabulary terms. By the way, the Methodists and the Baptists are the most popularly accepted Southern churches, followed by the Presbyterians and Episcopals. I’m not sure if the others are even listed in the phone books. Don’t kill the messenger. I didn’t make up the rules; I ‘m just reportin’ the facts as they are, ma’am. ;)

The list of things that make small towns in the South uniquely Southern is a very long one, and I could go on and on, and you’d stop reading after the next paragraph or two. Suffice to say, I’ll stop here; however, I did want to inform you about some of the reasons small towns are special…and why I write about them. The people have good, kind hearts and a talent for making anything taste like home. They’ll help their neighbors and strangers alike. Small towns will take care of their own…and then the gossip ladies will talk about you later…but that is the subject of another post!