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The Wolf Hour — Sara Lewis Holmes

As some of you know, I’ve become an increasingly bad blogger (in that I don’t blog very often at all). This site just springs to life once a month in honor of an ongoing poetry challenge I have with my Poetry Sisters and then usually goes full-on lively in April for my daily haiku.

But I’m making an exception, you guys. Because there’s the book — written, in fact, by one of those poetry sisters — and I want to tell you about it! And I want to give away a copy of the book! Do you want to win one?

Introducing The Wolf Hour, by the brilliant Sara Lewis Holmes!

I thought we could talk about fairy tale re-tellings or empowered girl heroes or combining scariness with beauty (because all of that is IN HERE), but instead I decided on music! Because that actually fits within this poetry-ish blog and because it’s a big (and impressive) part of this book.

So, without further ado, here’s my chat with Sara Lewis Holmes about the musical aspects of The Wolf Hour…

LIZ: This book is awash in music, beginning with the conjured-up piano Magia plays at her mother’s knee, moving onto the terrifying voice lessons at Miss Grand’s, and even into the howling, windy woods. Are you a musician yourself? If so, how did that inform the writing and if not, how did you manage? And why did you choose to use music as an important thread through this story?

SARA: I live in a musical family. Mike has played the guitar by ear since he was a teen, and both of our children play too—-and sing. It’s a jam session whenever everyone’s home. Sadly, I’m not in there jamming but usually in the kitchen, cooking a giant pot of soup and listening and leaking tears at the glory of it all. I took piano lessons, and know how to read music, but have always felt like I’m missing its essential elements, as I can’t hear or sing notes as I’m sure most of the world can. I think I gifted Magia with a gorgeous voice because I’ve always wanted one, or at least, the ability to stay on key. Ironically, she has the voice, but wants to use her other gifts.


Sara, obsessively playing her favorite song, Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Anyway, to compensate for my lack of musical chops, I did research, and I talked to people who live and breathe this stuff. For example, the Wolf Hour was inspired by many things, but one of them was a conversation with a musician I met on a trip to Croatia. He mentioned “wolf notes” in stringed instruments, and I instantly wanted to know more. Maybe it was the concept of a wild sound “escaping” a disciplined process? I’m not sure, but I took the idea—-which is highly technical—-and instead played with it as a both a theme and a repeating sound. So the idea that one girl’s (or one wolf’s) actions could reverberate beyond their original intent (or frequency) is definitely there, but also some pretty intense actual howling. Maybe every time Magia or Martin howls in the book, that’s me, singing. Heh.

LIZ: Oh, I love that idea! That’s how I’ll read it from now on. And, in fact, I did read the language of the woods to be its own kind of music. The wind through the trees and the chimney flue, the howling of wolves, the miraculous words that passed between Magia and Martin, and even the collegial conversation amongst pigs! I could hear it all. How were you able to bring those evocative sounds to life — and what knowledge of music, wolves or linguistics did you rely upon?

SARA: I loved writing that scene where the chimney howls, and Magia and Martin find a way to talk to each other. To me, it was their mutual hunger—-howled out to the world—- that caused them to connect, and to recognize a kindred soul. Isn’t that the way of it, in music, or otherwise? We think we’re the only one, alone and hungry, and it turns out, most of the world aches in the same key.

The pigs, too, were a kick to write, in that they are both dastardly AND bumbling, with all the language that goes along with those two comic archetypes. The pigs don’t howl, but they DO squeal… especially when they fight amongst themselves, as brothers will, and I had to keep a firm lid on their tendencies to show off. (They used to have names like Ham and such, for one thing.) Maybe they have a future on Broadway?

LIZ: Well, ok, speaking of those pigs… the question writers always have to ask themselves when doing a re-telling of a beloved myth or fairytale is how closely to hew to the original, and how and when to depart. Again, you handled this like music. You have written a soaring, symphonic variation that is its own piece altogether but then — every so often — the reader hits these deep, resonant and wholly familiar notes that anchor the experience to something old, something we know in our bones. What were the rules you laid out for yourself regarding Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and the story you wanted and needed to tell?

SARA: Oh. I like that—-a novel as symphony—and hope I accomplished even a tenth of that brilliant description. As for rules, my main goal was to center the stories around the role that wolves play in them. After that, I gave myself permission to re-cast the parts, and to poke into all the places in the stories that I remember not understanding as a kid—-like what does it FEEL like to be swallowed whole and then rescued? Gross, right??

I also wanted to replicate the “rule” in fairy tales that things may veer from deeply disturbing to jauntily funny in the space of a drawn breath because that kind of world makes me believe I, too, can be more than I am at the moment. That I can “sing anyway” for lack of a clearer term. I’m still gonna make soup in the kitchen and cry when shared music-making drifts out from the other room, mind you. No way am I going to front the band. But I’m happy that music in The Wolf Hour howls to readers like you, and I’m grateful for the voice that writing gives me.

LIZ: Oh, Sara. Even your answers are symphonic, aren’t they dear readers? Thank you!

Now… go pick up the book at your local indy bookseller or request it at the library. OR, win it! Comment here or on my facebook or twitter account and you’ll be put in the drawing for a copy of The Wolf Hour. Lucky you!

Poetry Project — December, 2017

First, before I get to what we wrote this month, I want to take a second to thank my poetry sisters with whom I’ve been writing — long distance — for years now. Sometimes all of us participate, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we have time to discuss the assignment, pick apart the form, critique each other’s work, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we like what we end up with, sometimes we don’t.

And we’ve only been together — all of us, in one room — once.

But we have formed a sisterhood around words, we really have. We are here for each other. We can count on these assignments, on the beautiful or hilarious results, on the fact that for some reason this matters to each of us.

Here are our poems.

And here are my partners in crime…
we have a rare and precious thing and I love these women:

Laura Purdie Salas
Tanita Davis
Sara Lewis Holmes
Kelly Ramsdell
Tricia Stohr-Hunt
and Andi Sibley

Meanwhile!! This month we wrote lais!
Who knew that was a thing? (Not me!)

It’s a nine line poem (I’ve doubled mine) with rules around both rhyme and syllabics — pretty obvious rules so no need to explain them here. I really liked this form — I don’t know why but it felt really readable to me. Enjoy…

Work Before Solstice, and After
By Liz Garton Scanlon

Each day brings less light –
less light, shadows slight
and chilled.
Each day takes more might
to rise, breathe and write,
to build.
Each day slips toward night
blanketed in white,
unwilled.

Each day brings more light –
more light, floorboards bright
and warm.
Each day, less a plight
to rise up, take flight,
take form.
Each day dawns forthright,
skies and words ignite,
transform.

Want to read more?
How about Tricia’s and Sara’s and Laura’s and Tanita’s and Kelly’s and Andi’s?

And then there’s Poetry Friday, chock full of goodness, over at A Year of Reading! Yay.
Happy weekend, everyone!

Poetry Project — November 2017

Well, hello triolet!

This little French twist looks easy, it woos you, draws you in.
There are only eight lines, it says, and three of them identical.
Look — easy!

But oh, what a puzzle.
There is sort of dissonant rhyme scheme and the tetrameter feels somehow limiting.
Who cares? we said. We’ll try it anyway!

We gave ourselves a group of words to include — at least 2 per poem — so that our poems would echo each other’s. So look out for the following: orange, fall, chill, light, change

And, enjoy!

Hold Us Still

This amber light that holds us still —
we are made fossils by the fall,
a mix of beauty and of chill.
This amber light that holds us still –
elbows resting on the sill –
a grief that keeps us in its thrall.
This amber light that holds us still —
we are made fossils by the fall.

Fall Back

The time will change again this week –
instead of five I’ll wake at four!
(Helpful if it’s peace I seek.)
The time will change again this week –
the curtains fall, the dog looks bleak.
The fire’s stoked, the tea is poured.
The time will change again this week –
instead of five I’ll wake at four.

Letter to My Daughter in College

Set your collar against the chill,
prepare to face the waning light.
Bundle up. Promise that you will
set your collar against the chill.
Sleep well, love deeply, eat your fill.
If I were there, I’d hold you tight.
Set your collar against the chill.
Prepare to face the waning light.

You might like reading the ones my Poetry Sisters wrote, too:

Tricia
Kelly
Laura
Sara
Tanita
Andi

And Poetry Friday is at Teacher Dance!

Poetry Project — October 2017

Ahhhh, we have Tanita to thank for this month’s challenge. I was daunted — I don’t know why. Maybe because the form is based on hymns, and my upbringing had me at a little interfaith chapel — only when it didn’t interfer with skiing.

Anyway, just like improv, when one of our Poetry Sisters throws down a challenge, the rest of us say, “Yes, and…”

So here we go — a poem with the theme of autumn, set to a hymnal rhyme scheme and meter (a la Isaac Watts or Emily Dickinson).

It Doesn’t Feel Like Fall
(A Hymn of Middle Age)

By Liz Garton Scanlon

While all the trees are evergreen
and sunshine evergold
I cannot make my heart careen
from young and bright, to cold.

I cannot play the part of crone
or slip on wisdom’s dress
when I’m still feeling barely grown
and hardly self-possessed.

They say a change is coming soon –
a chill is in the air –
so why do I insist it’s June,
wear blossoms in my hair?

Because! The calendar is blind
to things that just abide –
the bulbs that flowers leave behind,
the heartbeat of the tide.

So never mind the month now,
and never mind the time…
this girl’s a girl still, anyhow,
this season, sweet, sublime.

Some of my sisters were more nuanced and sophisticated with the form than I was. Have a look!
Laura
Tanita
Sara
Kelly
Andi
Tricia

And Poetry Friday is at Violet Nesdoly Poems today!
Enjoy, my friends….

Poetry Project — September 2017

Last month I missed our Poetry Sisters prompt because I was out in the wilderness.
Which, honestly, WAS poetry.
But, I’ve never missed one of our prompts before and I aim to make it up someday.

Here’s a picture of where I was in August so you can see that it was, indeed, an excused absence:

In the meantime, Sara Lewis Holmes was in charge of September’s assignment.
She offered up an image — this photo of inspirational rocks at the Highlights Foundation.
It’s a lovely image (the broken wish rock notwithstanding) so neither Sara nor Highlights nor the rocks will be blamed for the ensuing darkness! Sometimes a poem leads you down a garden path. Othertimes, well….

Oh, and it’s a pantoum, by the way. One of my favorite forms…

Your Mother is Afraid
By Liz Garton Scanlon

When she says be careful
what you wish for
she means make yourself small,
she means snuff out your own flame.

What you wish for –
it’s dangerous and bright as gold
she means, snuff out your own flame
she says, and cover your eyes.

It’s dangerous and bright as gold.
Shhh, be quiet and sit down
she says, and cover your eyes.
But you don’t. You see what she means.

Shhh, be quiet and sit down
(she means make yourself small).
But you don’t. You see what she means
when she says be careful.

Go see the other poems here:
Sara
Tanita
Kelly
Andi
Laura
Tricia

And Poetry Friday is being hosted here, at Kat’s Whiskers!