Monday, November 6, 2023

Don't tell me the moon is shining....


Writing With a Painter's Eye

"Don't tell me the moon is shining: show me the glint of light on broken glass."
Anton Chekov

In this painting, glints of the moon on the road, the walls and the woman.

I understand and agree with Chekov's point about how to use language to create strong imagery for the reader.  

As a writer (and an artist) I have always "seen" the images I write about in my head - very clearly. Some writers have told me they don't see the things they are writing about in their mind's eye as they write. When I worked with novice writers, I talked about using their inner eye while writing, in order to describe in words any vibrant visual images they wanted to create in their stories. Many had no idea what I meant.

I would try to explain with this example. "When you go for a walk, look up a the sky and try to describe in words in your head what you are seeing. Do the lines of Canada geese flying over look like just a bunch of geese passing overhead? Or do they look like they are playing "crack the whip" in the ice-blue sky"?
As a writer and artist I am always looking, looking, looking. When I see something that pleases me, or catches my eyes, or shocks me visually, I try to write it in my mind the way I see it. I probably look a bit gormless at those times, but it works for me. I carry little notebooks to jot down images as well.
I think it’s important that we, as writers, use part of “writing time” to look, to examine, to study our  worlds - to help train that inner eye, so our writing will conjure up clear images in our readers’ minds.
It seems to me there is a very strong link between visual art and the art of writing. When Chekov wrote, "Don't tell me the moon is shining: show me the glint of light on broken glass." I believe he was telling writers to "see" -- to paint and sculpt and create vivid images in their minds as they write, not to simply state the facts by telling us what we must see. We have all heard the phrase “Show, not tell.”  He said it the best.
I decided to see if I could express this connection I feel between writing and “seeing” - by searching out artists and their paintings and pairing them with writers' quotes. I hope this brings Chekov's image of “show not tell” to life in an interesting way - using the expressions and descriptions and visions of the moon and moonlight by writers and painters.

Tom Thomson "Moonlight and Birches"
Have you seen the bush by moonlight, from the train, go running by? Blackened log and stump and sapling, ghostly trees all dead and dry; Here a patch of glassy water; there a glimpse of mystic sky?
On the Night Train, Henry Lawson
"Moon" JMW Turner
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding,
      up to the old inn-door.
The Highwayman, Alfred Noyes

"Moonlight" Winslow Homer 
 How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here we will sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet
Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare
"The Starry Night", Vincent Van Gogh
Crazed through much child-bearing
The moon is staggering in the sky:
Moon-struck by the despairing
glances of her wandering eye
We grope, and grope in vain
For children born of her pain.
The Crazed Moon, William Butler Yeats
 Dieppe Sketchbook
"Moonlight on the Sea"
JMW Turner
 I sat by night beside a cold lake
And touched things smoother than moonlight on still water
But the moon in this cloud sea is not human
And there is no shore, no intimacy,
Only the start of space, the road to suns
Transcanada, F.R. Scott

"Dog with Ladder", Joan Miro
The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse
The howling dog by the door of the house
The bat that lies in bed at noon,
All love to be out by the light of the moon.
The Moon, Robert Louis Stevenson
"Ladder to the Moon" Georgia O'Keefe (Inspired by Miro's painting)

That I could clamber to the frozen moon
And draw the ladder after me.
Arthur Schopenhauer, quoted from "Parerga and Paralipomena"
"Lovers in Moonlight" Marc Chagall
Two Lovers watched the new moon hold
The old moon in her tight embrace.
Said she: "There's mother, pale and old,
and drawing near her resting place."
Said he, "Be mine, and with me wed,"
Moon high she stared ... and shook her head.
 Moon Song, Robert William Service

"The Wandering Moon" William Blake
The night walked down the sky with the moon in her hand.
 A Memory, Frederic Lawrence Knowles
 "Harvest Moon" Samuel Palmer
 To lie on the bottom of the sky, like a gold doubloon.
The harvest moon has come,
Booming softly through heaven, like a bassoon.
And the earth replies all night, like a deep drum.

So people can't sleep,
So they go out where elms and oak trees keep
A kneeling vigil, in a religious hush.
The harvest moon has come! 
"The Harvest Moon" Ted Hughes
 "Moonlight" Edvard Munch
 And then as now you hung above those trees
illuminating all. But to my eyes
Your face seemed clouded, tremulous
From the tears that rose beneath my lids
So Painful was my life: and is, my
Dearest moon: its tenor does not change
And yet, memory and numbering of epochs
Of my grief is pleasing to me. 
 To the Moon, Giacomo Leopardi
"Moonlight Spiritual" Bernard Hoyes 
Music is moonlight in the gloomy night of life.
Titan, Jean Paul Richter

Thursday, September 28, 2023

"Almost Forgotten" Women Writers - Stella Gibbons"

Stella Gibbons:

Stella Gibbons was born in 1902 in London, England. She studied journalism at University College and worked for a variety of newspapers. She was the author of twenty-three novels and also published short story collections and books of poems. She died in 1989 at the age of 87. 

Cold Comfort Farm: 

Gibbons is best known for her 1932 novel Cold Comfort Farm

As Gibbons wrote Cold Comfort Farm ... "she believed she might have a hit on her hands early on: the girls who typed her manuscript laughed out loud at it, and when it was published in September 1932 this was proved to be true." (The Guardian c 1933)

The public loved this book it, even if one critic was convinced that Stella Gibbons was a pseudonym for Evelyn Waugh. 

The next year the novel won the literary award Prix Étranger of the Prix Femina-Vie heureuse, which was rarely awarded to "comic novels", and this choice by the judges deeply incensed  the arrogant and entitled Virginia Woolf. "I was enraged to see they gave the £40 to Gibbons," Woolf wrote to Elizabeth Bowen. "Still, now you and Rosamond (Lehmann) can join in blaming her. Who is she? What is this book?".

(This is why writers should always dispose of certain old letters!) Woolf was terribly snobbish about "non-literary" writers. After all, the literary writers she admired were the only real writers (a divine group in which she included herself) -  and this letter certainly doesn't put her in a favourable light, to say the least! But I have heard remarks like this all of my years of writing - awards rarely make anyone happy, other than the winner!

I read Cold Comfort Farm some years ago and again more recently. It is sophisticated, hilarious, strangely dark and unsettling  - but for all that, it is mainly a pointed parody of the verdant, bucolic regional school of writers like Mary Webb, Thomas Hardy, Emily Bronte and especially D.H.Lawrence whose agrarian lustful novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover became a "cause célèbre" almost forty years later.  Before that, only edited versions had been released to the public. When the full unexpurgated version was published in 1960 by Penguin, their daring decision led to a trial under the Obscene Publications Act - where a jury eventually found Penguin not guilty. Lady Chatterley's Lover became revered after that - because of the crusade against censorship - and for its form of extravagantly descriptive writing about a sexual relationship between a young stonemason and Lady Constance Chatterley. 

But this is about Stella Gibbons, not D.H. Lawrence.  The (to some) aureate writing of many of these writers like Lawrence was just too over the top for many critics - and this appeared to be fodder for Stella Gibbons who wrote Cold Comfort Farm - a wickedly funny masterpiece of her own  - parodying this form of (arguably) overwrought pastoral writing. And I, for one, am glad she did.

Recently, I decided to look at some of Stella's other books.  I found that Vintage had brought her best ones out again. Exciting! But which to choose? I read a few articles, and it appeared that three of these novels - Westwood, Starlight, and Conference at Cold Comfort Farm, were highly recommended. So I ordered Starlight and Conference at Cold Comfort Farm. 

I started reading Conference at Cold Comfort Farm and then switched to Starlight, because it kept calling to me. On a superficial level, Starlight's cover promised something a little more intriguing. I will go back to "Conference" soon, because the parts of it I read were clever and funny - such as using the "modern out-there" art to parody the self-congratulatory artists of the mid-forties. The arrival of the the artists and other "thinkers" attending the Conference ruled over by the inept Mr. Mybug has to be one of the best satires about the burgeoning "modern 20th C artist". Gibbons' treatment of their fervent mandate;  the idea that all they needed was to be completely different to anything before them in their art in order to be noticed and celebrated. 

The conference was to be called the, "Conference of International Thinkers' Group"

Her descriptions of these creative people is wonderful. The artists of the novel are stunningly similar to some of today's installment artists or anti-artists  - some of whom destroy their art right after making it. Her take on them, and others at the conference, is hilarious. In the novel the artists are referred to as "transistorists." Included in this group are also writers, sculptors, neo-scientists, nutritionists and others. All crazy as loons.

Her characters are described perfectly - with a few short short, pithy observations from Flora. A good example of this is when Flora meets Mr. Mybug again after a number of years has passed and reflects "that the passing years had done nothing to mitigate Mr. Mybug's boundless asininity."  I will definitely return to it!


Starlight. Mmm. Whole different story. While reading Starlight, I kept wondering how Stella Gibbon's mind worked. No holds barred brain comes to mind. Brave writing. Risky writing, in a way, too. I envy her freedom to take a very unlikely story and run with it in directions that are pretty bizarre at times and yet strangely believable.

Starlight probably isn't for everyone, for it's deeply atmospheric, sad, hopeful, unpredictable and disturbing. Also droll and wicked. It is about the dank and cold muddy lanes that slant past dilapidated houses in the back byways of post war Britain; it's about old age and poverty, and running away from life. It is also about facing life stalwartly, and accepting the outcome of certain events you have no control over. It is complicated and yet simple. It is unique.

The first characters we meet are two elderly sisters, Gladys Barnes and her sister Annie who live in three unkempt rooms on the middle floor of twin-joined cottages in a cloistered, almost rural, back street of London. They are very close to poverty, but Gladys has a cleaning job that just makes ends meet. She takes care of "invalid" Annie, who sits on their bed all day wearing two coats, and covered in shawls and blankets. Annie wears a balaclava of large proportions on her head. When upset (which is quite often) Annie's small face retreats like a turtle into the depths of the balaclava. Gladys is all business and bustle. They play off each other and yet both and evolve and change as the story moves forward.

Above their small apartment, living in a single room, is another tenant - a peculiar, but gentle old man, Mr. Fisher, who feels compelled to change his name once a week, but who has a determined mission in life. Which you can discover on your own.

There has been news that their shared joint cottage may be sold and all three  become fretful and frightened about losing their homes. 

These characters' lives are, indeed, turned upside down when a "rackman" buys the dual cottage from the previous owner and puts his beautiful, frail wife into the other half of the building. There is something very odd about the wife who seems to be suffering from something ... or some thing that is sucking away her energy. Her husband, Mr. Pearson, appears as  a tough gangster-like figure from the shadows. He both intrigues and frightens the sisters. Mr. Pearson has also hired an Eastern European young woman to tend to his wife. The girl is raw and strange and off-putting. Each character's development is a strong theme in this book as well, but the changes often do not develop the way you expect them to go - which is also fascinating.

 More importantly, at this point in the book, is the question - what is so wrong with Mrs. Pearson? Why is she clearly hiding away in the second half of the old cottage. And why does her only daughter avoid being near her mother and run away to work as rich woman's companion?

Add to that cast, the local Vicar, Mr. Geddes, and his curate  - and throw in a "devilish being" and you have a novel that is unlike any story you have read.  I would advise you to stay away from reader reviews to avoid getting the whole story before you need to. I won't say more about this book, as it is yours to discover and explore.

I think about this novel at the strangest times. I am still trying to decide what it is that makes me wonder about it again and again..... but maybe that is what good writing is meant to do, right? 


At the beginning of the book, Stella Gibbons wrote:

The fated people- the
worshippers and poets,
the magicians and lovers - 
who live by the light of the stars

Van Gogh's Starry Night on the Rhone (portion)

I was reminded of Shakespeare's famous line reading this novel:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

(Hamlet to Horatio) 

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Rain is grace...

Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.  John Updike

Photo Copyright, Margaret Buffie

During the winter months, I sometimes "dream" of rain - falling on the boreal forest around my lake cabin and on city streets where I live.
In my daydreams, it is usually spring at the lake. I see the first rain drops falling one by one, pockmarking the water until they are joined by millions of others - or I dream about those rare times, when I've watched a long sheet of rain come in from the far bay - a vast sweeping curtain - its huge determined cloud toward sliding toward me. I remember the number of times I stood on our old dock, watching and waiting. When I see the wall of rain startle the water near my island into a wild dance I hold my breath. I know I'm about to get good and wet! In this photo I am hiding under the old lowering Jack Pine. Here are some of my favourite artists.

Rain, Gustav Caillebotte

Seascape Study with Rain CloudJohn Constable   

As one song puts it, "I love a rainy day" Right now, on June 7, 2015 - the tree branches are bowed from a heavy downpour and cars are swishing past my house. If I went out my front door right now and took a short walk, I would see the elms along our city boulevard dripping with rain and smell the distant scent of white lilacs, car exhaust, mowed lawns and I could peer into the many puddles on the road reflecting the images that surround them. 

Puddle, 1952 Esher

Perfect Puddle, David Hockney, IPad Art

But if I walk out my back door into the garden there will be the smell of my small purple lilac hedge, a few open roses and the welcoming earthy spiced smells of my herbs, as the maple tree behind the fence rolls its last few drops of water onto my fat peony buds. 

Terrace in the Rain in Marquayrol,  Henri Martin

In the Rain, Franz Marc

The Window in the Garden, Henri Martin 

I will be at my lake cabin soon, and I will have my cameras ready for my walks. After a rain, I know the paths behind our cabin well, and I will discover mushrooms of every kind that have popped up overnight; bright yellow witch's butter oozing out of rotting logs, orange jelly poking out of old woodpecker holes, aromatic milky mushrooms in the deep mosses, white puff balls with tender spiked heads, red, white, gray and orange mushrooms - some flat topped, some curved, some bobbled and spotted  - all sleek with rain.

Mist  in the Forest, Nicholas Roerich

The rocks I climb across will have deep cushions of sphagnum moss after a rainfall, some so green they look almost neon in the shade. I have to walk carefully as those rocks will be slippery with wet soil hidden under the moss, while the earth on the paths I descend into will be dark and rich with odors, There I will find my mushrooms.

"The sudden appearance of mushrooms after a summer rain is one of the more impressive spectacles of the plant world." John Tyler Bonner

Photo, © Margaret Buffie

Photo, © Margaret Buffie

The rain begins with a single drop. Manal al-Sharif

First Drops of Rain By the Marsh © Photo Margaret Buffie

Rain Landscape, Max Gubler

Thy fate is the common fate of all;
Into each life some rain must fall.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Blue Rain Photo ©  Margaret Buffie

Paris Street Rainy Day, Gustave Caillebotte

Spring Rain  Erte

At night I dream that you and I are two plants 
that grew together, roots entwined, and that you know the earth and the rain like my mouth, since we are made of earth and rain.  Pablo Neruda

I am a being of Heaven and Earth, of thunder and lightning, 
of rain and wind, of the galaxies. Eden Ahbez

Rain Shower  Eyvind Earle

The rain began again. It fell heavily, easily, with no meaning
or intention but the fulfillment of its own nature, which was to fall and fall.
Helen Garner

Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards.  Vladimir Nabokov

Downpour Nicholas Roerich

Rain, Erte

Let us keep the dance of rain our fathers kept 
and tread our dreams beneath the jungle sky.
Arna Bontemps

I'm singing in the rain, just singing in the rain; What a 
wonderful feeling, I'm happy again.
Arthur Freed

The Dance of the Rain, David Alfaro Siqueiros

One must know the so-called 'lesson of a downpour.' A man, caught in a sudden rain en route, dashes along the road not to get wet or drenched. Once one takes it for granted that in rain he naturally gets wet, he can be in a tranquil frame of mind even when soaked to the skin. This lesson applies to everything. Yamamoto Tsunetomo

Rainstorm on Ohashi Bridge, Ando Hiroshige

Rain,  Dmitry Kustanovich 

Listen to the falling rain,
Listen to it fall,
And with every drop of rain,
I can hear you call,
Call my name right out loud,
I can here above the clouds
And I'm here among the puddles,
You and I together huddle.
Listen to the falling rain
Jose Feliciano

Rain, Marc Chagall

Lovers Seated at the Foot of A willow Tree, 
Camille Pissaro

.... my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests.
Pablo Neruda

Thunderhead, Tom Thomson

Rainy Landscape II  Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas

There's always a period of curious fear between the first sweet-smelling breeze and the time when the rain comes cracking down.
Don DeLillo

Rain in Belle-Ile - Claude Monet, 1886

Ray Embankment in Basel in the rain Alexandre Benois 

After the Rain

This morning's scene is good and fine, 
Long rain has not harmed the land.
Du Fu

Fog and Storm and Rain, Eyvind Earle

After a Rain,  Arkhip Kuindzhi

Rain Mist and SunA. J. Casson

Clearing after the Rain JEH MacDonald 

When you are so full of sorrow,
that you can't walk, can't cry anymore, 
think about the green foliage that sparkles
after the rain. 
Omar Khayyam

Pond at Milton on the Hudson, George Innes