The Patron Saint of Losers, Part 2

vincent-van-gogh-enclosed-field-with-ploughman-on-wikimedia-public-domainThis post, which appears as the Editorial Statement in Image issue 90, is continued from yesterday.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a contemporary of Shakespeare, knew his share of failure.

As a young man he went off to serve in the military—whether to escape arrest for wounding a man in a duel or for some other reason remains unclear. As a marine he participated in the fateful battle of Lepanto, in which the naval forces of the Ottoman Empire were decisively defeated. On another expedition he was captured by pirates and spent five years as a slave in Algiers before he was finally ransomed and came home.

His efforts to support himself with his pen met with little success. Neither did his petitions for compensation for his war service. He was imprisoned twice and only late in his life did the publication of Don Quixote ease his financial woes. He died soon after its second volume was brought out. [Read more…]

The Patron Saint of Losers, Part 1

honore_daumier_017_don_quixote-on-wikimediaThis post appears as the Editorial Statement in Image issue 90.

One of the stranger conversations I’ve ever had took place during my senior year of college. I was attending a conference, and during one of the coffee breaks I was talking with a scholar who had taken a shine to me. He asked if I was considering doing a PhD, and if so, in what field. I told him that I was, probably in English literature. He frowned.

“No, there’s a glut in the market for that. You do want a teaching position ultimately, right?”

I said it was likely. He thought for a moment.

“I’d recommend Soviet Studies, but if the Soviet Union falls you’d be in trouble.”

He pondered a while. He may have rubbed his chin.

“I’ve got it,” he said brightly. “Egyptology.”

I looked to see if his tongue might be in his cheek, but he seemed cheerily sincere. I muttered that I’d think about it and went on my way. [Read more…]

The Ghosts of Home

natalie-vestin-drive-imageWhen I visit my family in northern Minnesota, I find myself on the same roads I’ve known—back and forth—since I was a child. Often I ride with others because I can’t orient, even in my small town and the outskirts made of barely-there townships and roads that veer only toward themselves. I think of small pathways on Midway Road, and I look for the town hall, for the church, for the dilapidated gray house with scorch marks at the roof. The churning root beer float of the St. Louis River to the south.

I gave up my car last year, though I still love the way the air and light changes on a drive, the way that movement and change of scene feels like prayer. Like close prayer, as if God is in the ditch or the jack pines, a new side of God available when you move a certain way or enter a different terrain. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Poetry Is the Spirit of the Dead, Watching,” Part I, By Margaret Gibson

tree-light-by-florian-schwalsberger-on-flickrWhere do our words come from? And our lives: how do they connect with those (whether persons or words) now dead but perhaps living on—in ways we can almost touch, almost speak? These are the complex questions that Margaret Gibson raises and wraps her own language around in this remarkable poem. For all their complexity, the questions are explored by Gibson in a most accessible, inviting way. Beginning with her discovery of a poem written in her youth, she moves seamlessly into the present moment via the etymologies of words. “The roots of words send out their spirits,” she writes. And those spirits draw her thought into the spirits of the dead, with whom she sits comfortably till the poem’s end—where she enters the spirit of the preposition “with” so actively that it becomes a verb.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

An Interview with Newbery Medal-Winning Author Clare Vanderpool, Part 1

11789685473_f05bf47558_kClare Vanderpool, Newbery-Medal winning author of the novels Moon over Manifest (Delacorte, 2010) and Navigating Early (Delacorte, 2013), got her start by attending a writing workshop at The Milton Center, with which Image was associated in its early years and whose programs are now run by Image. While under a Milton fellowship in the mid-90s, I read one of her earliest works and now discuss her accomplishments in a two-part interview.

Moon over Manifest, set in depression-era Kansas, features 12-year-old Abilene Tucker, whose itinerant father arranges for her to stay in a small Kansas town where he spent his boyhood. There, Abilene is met by a variety of townspeople that have a story as mysterious to her as the reason her father has sent her away. Navigating Early, set in post-WWII New England, tells the tale of young Jack Baker, whose military father puts him in a Maine boys’ school following the death of Jack’s mother. Jack has to make his way in a new world, and finds himself befriended by a strange boy, Early Auden, who sets the two of them on an adventure to find something that everyone, except Early, believes is lost forever.

A.G. Harmon: In your first novel, Moon Over Manifest, you have your main character quote Melville—“true places are never found on any map,” i.e., are more than their locales or their coordinates on a grid. Did that quote influence the novel?

Clare Vanderpool: It definitely was the catalyst of the novel. The notion of a true place and what it is resonated with me. For me, that conjures up a lot memories. I’ve lived in the same place my whole life (Wichita), and memories are around every corner. But for young Abilene (sent by her itinerant father to a town where he’d once lived) who has never had a home, it became a real question. So the idea of finding what a true place is for the character became what the book was about.

AGH: Later, Abilene has a gloss on that—that “true places are found in many places, including on a map.” Are we to take it that a place is indeed its story (pace Melville), but that it can become more than that too—that it is more incarnational—both a place and more than a place? [Read more…]