Photo of a Catesby's Trillium, named for the naturalist Mark Catesby. Photographed at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center, many years ago, Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Stories of Place
All writing is place-based, or so they say. I don’t know who said it first, but it may have been Wendell Berry. He may have written while teaching in New York, but his return to Kentucky is marked as the beginning of his literary career. In one of his essays, Berry speaks of how others tried to dissuade him from that return, fearing that leaving New York would end his career.
Berry’s fictional town of Port William, where his novels and short stories occur, is based on Port Royal, Kentucky, where he lives. His poetry and nonfiction spring from the soil of the working farm where he lives.
Although I am sure Berry knows that some of his books have been electronically published, I am also certain that he has not read them on an electronic device. He does not own a computer. He handwrites his manuscripts which his wife types on a manual typewriter.
As I Look through the books on my shelves, I see many that are place-based. They are the ones I have already read and seem to turn to regularly. For the next few weeks, I will focus the content of my newsletter and blog on place-based writing.
Help Along the Way
Tell it Slant is a lovely resource for writers wanting to explore the creative nonfiction genre. Reading the short chapters, you will gain insights on writing a family history, a memoir, or a travel piece. The authors included other aspects such as nature writing and literary journalism. The chapters end with numerous "try it" exercises to get you writing.
Shameless Self Promotion
My short story, "Life After Writing," won first place in the Chattanooga Writers' Guild's October contest. It takes place right where I live since it is a satire of organized critique groups,
I am now offering a free PDF of my broadside, Light and Shadow, including nonfiction pieces and a short story. Email Ray Zimmerman to request a copy.
An Announcement from the Masters' Review
Every year The Masters' Review opens submissions to produce our anthology, a collection of ten stories and essays written by the best emerging authors. We aim to showcase ten writers who we believe will continue to produce great work. The ten winners are nationally distributed in a printed book with their stories and essays exposed to top agents, editors, and authors across the country. Our third volume was awarded the Silver Medal for Best Short Story Collection through the INDIEFAB Awards in 2015, and our fourth volume was an honorable mention for best anthology. In honor of our tenth anniversary, This year’s prize pool has DOUBLED. $10,000 will be awarded between the winning writers!
The Early Months
Advice in Time of Plague (Free Verse)
A free ferse poem and two sonnett
Do not Abandon all hope ye who enter here
nor let the wight of current events crush your soul.
Mourn what is lost, but not too long.
Crush the hurdle of despair and
the dark thoughts lurking there.
Pitch a tent near cool mountain streams.
Lay spoil to grim demeanor and resurrect hope.
Revel in the comedy of a fence lizards display.
Delight in wild violets and trout lilies.
Never forget, you are called to live.
Social Distancing (Sonnet II)
I scorn all those cities with so called delights,
And seek a shelter from electronic chaff.
Find the key to my pleasure on nature’s heights
Shed my suit for khaki and a hiking staff.
O whisk me away to those yonder days
I promise to give the landscape its due
Where wind with leaves so often plays.
When morning sky glows in salmon and blue
Though rain might fall, my clothing to drench,
I stick to the trails with a softer hue
I’ll celebrate nature, not hide in a trench,
As smoke must rise from a neighboring flue.
Keep your highways and cities conveniently planned.
I’ll happily travel a more distant land.
So does the drought give birth to quenching rain,
As heat of day recedes with cooler night.
The arctic bear from northern sky takes flight.
With darkness ended, sun must rise again.
The Turquoise sky aflame with salmon red
As clouds leap fish-like from the eastern rim.
Across the watery sky we see them skim.
When evening comes the turquoise blue has fled.
As thirsty people cry for quenching rain,
The leaves of trees like paper scorched by sun.
The heat parched winds must cross the dusty plain.
Dry ferns uncurl like newfound life begun.
The soul revives where once despair had lain,
And seeds shall sprout as life must have its run.
What a year 2020 has been. As we approach year’s end, I am pleased to say Merry Christmas, which comes from my own tradition. As you celebrate traditions of your own, be they Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Solstice, or others, it is my wish that the new year will bring you renewed hope. We all could use a little hope right now.
Every year, I get requests to read my poem, “Christmas Papers,” so I am pleased to share it with you in this message, along with its companion poem, “Snow.” I took the photograph which follows the poems at Amnicola Marsh here in Chattanooga.
I was older when I noticed
the same color and pattern
on the Christmas papers
year after year. Each year
a pattern graced a smaller package.
Christmas morning emanated excitement
and opening packages with scissors, carefully
cutting tape, so as not to rip the paper.
I was older when I noticed my mother’s hands,
ironing on Christmas night.
She ironed the same towel again and again.
Under the towel Christmas papers
lost their creases, regained smooth surfaces.
Her hands rolled the paper we could never replace.
Choosing between gifts and new paper, she chose gifts.
Already the snow dissolves
at seven in the morning
in the Chattanooga dawn.
It returns me to an Ohio childhood.
I drag my sled uphill
to skid back down again.
I conclude the days sledding,
await my dad’s return,
a rabbit in his hunting coat.
Blood and guts defile
the whitest landscape,
cleaned up by dogs.
My mother, busy in the kitchen
with rabbit in a pan,
vegetables from a Mason jar.
Birdshot lead between my teeth,
I cannot taste the flesh
washed down with milk.
Awakened from this dream,
I breakfast on oatmeal with raisins,
snow already melting.
Wrapping up my Year
It has been a difficult year with more challenges than most, but for a few minutes, I am happy to focus on some bright spots:
My photograph “Green Heron” is included in the 2021 calendar from Chattanooga Audubon.
Four of my photographs are included in the Chattanooga Writers’ Guild anthology.
Several of my poems appeared in The Avocet and The Weekly Avocet.
My short story, “Life After Writing” won the prose award in the October contest of the Chattanooga Writers’ Guild.
In prisons, it is called solitary confinement.
In interrogations, it is a form of torture.
In abusive relatioships, it is a form of control.
In the land of Covid-19, it is the new normal.
Yet we press on.
Yesterday's poem was an audio presentation on Instagram and Facebook. Here is the text.
As published in Number One, Gallatin, Tennessee
She is the guardian, protector of the wilderness.
She circles round and round among the rocks.
Her belly swells with new life.
Transparent eggs open when expelled,
snakes born alive.
The young will have a rattle,
just like mom.
They warn before striking,
but beware their presence.
Beneath flowering azaleas,
or within a handhold on a rock face,
the guardian may be there.
“Don’t tread on me,”
the buzzing rattle warns.
This is her domain, assuring
the travelers go wearily onward.
So long as the guardians remain,
fewer travelers camp on top of wild orchids,
fewer wander off the trails.