Hound foolery
Frogs, toads, and days of gold

Look, learn, remember

Ponies 1

As artists, although we can list a variety of things that serve to inspire us (places, experiences, interests and obsessions, other works of art, etc.), the act of inspiration itself remains mysterious and magical. Why and how does it strike when it does? Why this idea and not that one; why at this moment and not another?

"The whole process is a mystery, in all the arts," writes Susan Cooper; "creativity, in literature, painting, music. Or in performance, those rare lovely moments in a theater when an actor has the whole audience in his hand suddenly, like that. You may have all the technique in the world, but you can't strike that spark without some mysterious exra blessing -- and none of us knows what that blessing really is. Not even writers, who talk the most, can explain it at all.

Ponies 2

"Who knows where the ideas come from? Who knows what happens in the shadowy part of the mind, something between Plato's cave and Maeterlinck's Hall of Night, where the creative imagination hides? Who knows even where the words come from, the right rhythm and meaning and music all at once? Those of us who make books out of the words and ideas have less of an answer than anyone. All we know is that marvelous feeling that comes, sometimes, like a break of sunshine in a cloud-grey sky, when through all the research and concentration and slog -- suddenly you are writing, fluently and fast, with every sense at high pitch and yet in a state almost like a trance. Suddenly for a time the door is open, the magic is working; a channel exists between the page and the shadowy cave in the mind.

"But none of us will ever know why, or how.

Ponies 3

Ponies 4

"Just one thing can, perhaps, be charted," Cooper adds, "and that's the kind of stories that are told. If only looking back over your own work after you've done it, you can find some thread that runs through, binding it all together.

Ponies 5

Ponies 6

Reflecting on her own work, Cooper writes:

"The underlying theme of my Dark is Rising sequence, and particularly its fourth volume, The Grey King, is, I suppose, the ancient problem of the duality of human nature. The endless coexistence of kindness and cruelty, love and hate, forgiveness and revenge -- as inescapable as the cycle of life and death, day and night, the Light and the Dark.

Ponies 7

"And to some extent, I can see its roots. My generation, especially in Britain and Europe, was given a strong image of good and bad at an impressionable age. We were the children of World War II. Our insecurities may not have been different in kind from those of the modern child, but they were more concrete. That something might be lurking in the shadows behind the bedroom door at night wasn't, for us, a terrible formless bogeyman; it was specific -- a Nazi paratrooper, with a bayonet. And the nightmares that broke into our six-year-old sleep weren't always vague and forgettable; quite often they were not only precise, but real.

Ponies 8

"We knew that there would indeed be the up-and-down wail of the air raid siren, to send us scurrying through a night crisscrossed with searchlights, down into the shelter, that little corrugated iron room buried in the back lawn, and barricaded with sandbags and turf. And then their would be the drone of the bombers, the thudding of anti-aircraft fire from the guns at the end of the road, and the crash of bombs coming closer, closer each time...

Ponies 9

Ponies 10

Ponies 11

"The experience of war, like certain other accidents of circumstance, can teach a child more than he or she realizes about the dreadful ubiquity of man's inhumanity to man. And if the child grows up to be a writer, in a world that seems to learn remarkably little from its history, that writing will be haunted.

Ponies 12

"Haunted, and trying to communicate the haunting. Whether explicitly, or through the buried metaphor of fantasy. It will always be trying to say to the reader: Look, this is the way things are. The conflict that's in this story is everywhere in life, even in your own nature. It's frightening, but try not to be afraid. Ever. Look, learn, remember; this is the kind of thing you'll have to deal with yourself, one day, out there."

Ponies 13

"Perhaps," she concludes, "a book can help with the long, hard matter of growing up, just a little. Maybe, sometimes."

I believe books can, and that they've done this for many of us.

Ponies 14

The pictures today are of our local herd of Dartmoor ponies, who often come down from the moor to the village Commons to graze and shelter their foals. Tilly loves them, but knows not to get too close, especially during foaling season.

Pony watcher

Words: The passage above is from "Seeing Around Corners" (Cooper's acceptance speech for the 1976 Newbury Medal for The Grey King), published in Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1996). The poem in the picture captions is from Love and Strange Horses by Nathalie Handal (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010). All rights reserved by the authors.

Comments

Another great fantasist, Alan Garner, has also written about his experiences as a child in England during World War II - and how such experience inevitably effects the writing of magical fiction. The writers of his generation, he said, grew up in an atmosphere in which "a whole community and a whole nation united against pure evil, made manifest in the person of Hitler. Parents were seen to be afraid. Death was a constant possibility…Therefore, daily life was lived on a mythic plane: of absolute Good against absolute Evil; of the need to endure, to survive whatever had to be overcome, to be tempered in whatever furnace was required."

(The quote is from his essay collection The Voice That Thunders, which I highly recommend.)

Daily life lived on a mythic plane...good versus evil, heroes and villains. I'm so glad that what I read in the news also tells tales of the heroes, of the Light penetrating the Dark.

Haunted writing...yes, I can see that, and I love that poignant way of describing it. I think all writing is haunted, really. The shadows of the world and our unique experiences in it underlies all our words, builds our story worlds. And there are books that have certainly not only helped me but shaped who I am. Such power and healing in words.

Those ponies are beautiful. They bring peace to my heart.

has an Appaloosa joined the herd?

Your Pony Posts are some of my favorites! Look, learn, remember. In Hawaiian one way to say that is in our 'Olelo No'eau, Nana i ka 'ike, in observing you learn. Post WWII such a strange and repetitive marker that just won't go away. So yes, I believe the thread of stories I keep telling have the strange and repetitive marks of life, birth, migration, upheaval and innovation.

"Look, Learn, Remember" what perfect title for today's essay and subject matter. Often I have been inspired by ideas and experiences that happen when I just look and wait. Then I learn something from what I see and more often something about myself and my desire or ability to write. Recently, my partner and I hung a mesh
bird feeder on a pine branch in our garden. We bought a bag of mealworms from the pet dept of Walmart and filled it. Suddenly sparrows came and some finches.

I watched how they attempted to pull our the food, positioning their heads and bodies from different angles for the best results. Beyond a delight to watch, a wondrous distraction, I felt in the same way, the hunger of an idea sent its flock of words to my throat testing which ones sounded the best, echoed impact, possessed the power to not only be heard but also to be remembered. When I a begin a poem and decide whether or not it has enough worth to be explored or continued, I always pronounce the first sentence orally several times, often experimenting with the arrangement of words, the inflection, the rhythm of syllables etc. This experience with the bird feeder and its winged participants, allowed me to fully realize how the process of feeding an idea/theme with words is a task with some tricky or delicate maneuvering. Pulling out significant meaning with an equal significance of sound is a balancing act. I already knew this on a vague or cognizant level, somewhere in the shadow of my mind, but this really allowed me to feel it, sense it. Anyway,
the poem was the result -

The Bird Feeder
We hung it on the fir tree,
a mesh tower of worms,
that draws mostly sparrow but sometimes finch --
smaller and more agile as they cling
to the wind-swung silo trying
to find the best angle for extracting food.

And in this hour,
when the sun softens its light
I watch them as words hover
in the back of my throat. Each tugging
on certain chords, testing inflection
and tone. All striving to burst
into the branching sentence
that must be spoken to begin a poem.

And on it, words land then lift
pitching their syllables like this morning's perch
of slight birds who flick their tails
in the shadow of cedar & pine. Absorbing breath
from what deepens and allows things to last.
_________________________________
Terri

Thank you so much for this beautiful essay and its contents. I love contemplating where an idea comes from and how we react from what we have experienced and learned. The photos of the horses are breathtaking and the poem in captions, truly sublime. You always pick the right images and the right poetry or thoughts to accompany.

Loved all of this!
Take care
Wendy

I could hardly read the parts about war while looking at those idyllic pasture scenes. My muse was jumping from photo to photo. Have a great weekend.

"And on it, words land then lift
pitching their syllables


Oh yes yes yes

Signed, a birder and lover of the dawn chorus


Jane

The Last Time I Rode A Horse

It was a carousel pony,
small beside the memory
of my days on the Lipizzans.

I was to learn the airs,
the ones above ground
but the Spanish Academy

in that small Westchester town
closed before I was allowed.
Not until the carousel

lifted me high above
the moving floor,
my thighs so taut

around the horse's
barreled wooden chest
as a seventy-eight year old,

taut as they'd been
about the warmth
of that Lipp.

When I dismounted,
my knees buckled.
as they had each aftermath

on the lunge line,
held by the German Herr.
My body a tuning fork,

the horse my instrument,
the wind my song,
the metronome my heart.

©2017 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

I was born long after the war, but my teachers and elders were people who lived through it, or had been born soon after it, and they seemed haunted by it still. So they taught the experience of it - old recordings of air raid sirens, played for eight year olds, stories of life in the Blitz (all this even though we lived on the other side of the world) and of course the Holocaust. We were read the Snow Goose while still very young and studied Anne Frank when a little older. There was a strong sense that it must never be forgotten. That's all gone now, and I don't know if I'm glad about it (fewer haunted children) or sad. After all, we have nuclear bombs and terrorist acts to trouble our imaginations these days.

Hi Jane

Absolutely love this poem!! And these lines mesmerize --

My body a tuning fork,

the horse my instrument,
the wind my song,
the metronome my heart.

I can feel how the rider becomes one with the horse, internalizing the music of the carousel equine as well as the rhythmic thrill in her own soul. I have always loved riding on a carousel, especially the horse. You take flight as the carousel turns and the imagination as well as the heart is allowed to soar, yes achieving those "airs above ground". Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful poem, it takes me back to a special time in my own life.

Take care,
Wendy

In the first photo. the little half grown mare (I think) does look like it. I grew up and went often to Lewiston.Idaho. where My Dad grew up on Nez Perce land, and told me all about the Appaloosa wonders.
All my family there had something to do with horses, buying and selling, rodeos. and how the Nez Perce
did not "break" horses. They were kind of magical about it and my Dad taught me to be a Cowgirl, which
is far away in another life, now.


I was there. I could see the gulping, the feathers, the worms, and the mystery of how it became a poem!

OH yes! You are lifted so....

Hi Jane

Thank you so much for reading this piece and your lovely comment! I deeply appreciate it and agree, there is nothing like birdsong at dawn or even in the early evening. Birds are spiritual to me, nature's finest musicians as well as messengers.

Take care
Wendy

Hi Phyllis

Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts. I am glad this poem became tangible for you, I always hope as a writer that my work will do that.

Take care
Wendy

Bows head, thanks you, Wendy, for the kind words, Terri's photo's for the memories bursting upward.

Jane

Smiling now, Phyllis.

Jane

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