Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Release of Fledgling Song

I am overjoyed to announce the official release of my novella, Fledgling Song (2013, Electio Publishing).

Fledgling Song traces the thought life and wanderings of Claire Sivert, a young Canadian woman living and studying biology in France. Caught between the wilderness landscapes of her native Manitoba and the winter-gray cityscapes of Paris, she struggles to find a firm footing. Besides yearning for a sense of place, she is also caught between two eras of her life. Painfully vivid memories from her childhood and tentative hopes rooted in the present intermingle as she moves through her days and records her musings in her faithful journal. Full of wonder and yet delicately unsure of herself, Claire learns through several encounters with new friends how to be bold and face her past and present, however imperfect.

A perfect end-of-summer read! 

Available at electiopublishing.com in paperback and ebook and amazon.com

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Let Us Name

It has been a longtime favorite thought of mine that poetic language is, by definition, naming things properly. I have alluded to this idea previously in conjunction with my own sense of calling on the Fling, and many other thinkers have dwelt on it and enriched my own understanding as well over the years. Adam's work as the first poet is implied, for example, in Bob Dylan's "Man Gave Names to All the Animals." The song ultimately demonstrates that our choice of words can have drastic implications. It begins with the typical Dylan, off-the-cuff whimsy:

He saw an animal up on a hill
Chewing up so much grass 'til she was filled
He saw milk comin' out but he didn't know how
"Aw, think I'll call it a cow"

However, the last stanza ends abruptly - and, more importantly, nameless.

He saw an animal as smooth as glass
Slithering his way through the grass
Saw him disappear by a tree near a lake...

We, after the fall, are left to finish the sadly obvious, the unsaid, the deadly. There has got to be some crucial relation between the thing itself and the thing we call it. If one is able to correctly use words (either spoken or written) to evoke and reflect an experience and it can be very good, then might improperly wielding words have the opposite effect? Or what are the consequences of simply failing to name correctly, as in Dylan's depiction of Adam, who retires in shamefaced silence? If only he had shouted "SNAKE!" to Eve in time...

At the end of last semester, I toiled through Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "The Poet" in the faculty room with a few other teachers. I say it was hard work because he obviously had some Very Large Pronouncements to make, being Emerson, but the most tantalizing tidbits were deeply rooted in large sections of dense prose. Such as, "the poet is the Namer, or Language-maker, naming things sometimes after their appearance, sometimes after their essence, and giving to every one its own name and not another's, thereby rejoicing the intellect, which rejoices in detachment or boundary." Whew. I get it, but wow. (There were plenty I didn't.) Or, "language is the archives of history...language is fossil poetry." This is what sometimes happens when poets try to write literary theory - opacity and metaphors galore. But the fact that it is "rejoicing to the intellect" to delineate here but not there is a gorgeous and true thought. And the fact that we humans do this with our words is even more stunning. It reminds me of that stirring passage in Job where God is re-telling how he created the waters, when he informs them in no uncertain terms :"This far you may come and no further, here is where your proud waves halt." Who is this, that even the winds and the waves obey Him? And yet, if we are to have dominion as His children and heirs, do we not engage in a similar activity? We point at things, perhaps tremblingly, and say: "After this preposition, and before this noun - this is where your proud waves halt."

All of this has been fresh in my mind this past week as I ground my way through the arduous task of naming and re-naming my book. As it happens, "working" titles can be dangerous. You just might find yourself a week before the publication date thinking to yourself: Hm. That's not it at all I read today that Gone With the Wind was originally entitled Mules in Horses' Harnesses. This gave me hope, but not until after the four or five days I spent sweating over the same set of a dozen words or so, arranging and re-arranging to find just the right fit. Thanks to a happy confluence of brainstorming friends and a one a.m. ah-ha moment which got me out of bed and back to the yellow legal pad, I think we've got it. Fledgling Song. I remember telling one of these very helpful friends that I was surprised at how much work it was to find a good name. If it was just the right thing, shouldn't it fall just into place? But no, apparently book titles can be a somewhat messy procedure.

As with naming anything, I suppose. Have you heard the nearly epic tales of parents who are trying to select a name for their child? I haven't been in this enviable position yet in my life, but if the book was any indication, it's going to be a long haul. It comes down to the fact that names do matter.  Proper names are only a subset of the larger human project of rightly naming all things, but it is the one that most people participate in over the course of their lives. You may never write a poem (though I hope you do), but you will probably name a child if you haven't already. The enormity of our responsibility as Namers is brought home to us in a myriad ways, but "baby names" are one of the most common, frustrating, and endearing ones.

But how about the discovery of an unknown sea creature? Or a new planetary moon? Or new facets of our own genetic code that we once thought to be non-essential and now calls for a nobler term than "junk DNA"? Or the feeling that you got that one time that made you gulp down your tears, because you had nothing to call it?

The frontiers lay in vast swaths in front of us. Let us, therefore, name.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pinning up Stars

Here is a little taste of the upcoming novella. I just received word that it is scheduled to come out week after next, in paperback and as an ebook. This is all very head-spinning and wonderful. I'll do the best I can to keep you all updated, so please check back often for more details. Much love to you all. Thank you for reading. 


Sometimes words are like points plotted out on a graph – only in laying them out can I find the needful pattern. Pin them down. Push the pins in all the way. But Peter, my thumb hurts when I do that. His big, calloused hands were better suited to the task. We were hanging maps of the stars on the ceiling of my bedroom. I remember he promised me I could put glow-in-the-dark stars up for every constellation I learned to identify. I love to count, he said. I will count them all someday. And I believed he would, his curly- headed silhouette thrust into the starry sky. But I will spend my days with gaze downwards, bowed down like a broken reed in these endless winter marshes. 


© Abbey C. von Gohren and Electio Publishing, 2013-2015. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Forthcoming Book: Winter in the Wetlands

As many of you know, I spend most of my days teaching high school students. How to wrap their lips and throats around the delicate sounds of the French language. How to see the dark beauty of the Iliad, or the wistful, salt-saturated voyage in the Odyssey.

I spend every other stolen moment thinking about what next to put on paper myself, which usually makes its way to this space, this writing thing or "Fling." I am touched and delighted by how many of you still join me here from time to time to follow the scribbles and stratchings. 

What you may not know is that some words and worlds find their way into fictional tales which really never end up seeing the light of day. However, after several years of fussing over a particular grouping of words I called "Winter in the Wetlands" I decided to take my first few wobbly steps out and toward publishing the dang thing. I sent the maunscript out to a few small presses, braced myself for the first batch of rejection letters, and poured myself a glass of wine in celebration. At least it was out of my head and into the wider world. (And any excuse for a celebratory glass of red. Oh, the corks left in our wake during the home-buying adventure six months ago. Big sigh.) And so I waited. 

But not for long. 

As it happens, there is an up-and-coming publisher called Electio Publishing who took an interest in my little story. And here I find myself telling you all that I have signed a contract with them to publish my piece. (What?!) The forthcoming book, a novella, will be appearing in late summer or early fall, and will be available in paperback and e-book formats on the Electio website and all over the web (Amazon, etc.). I'll post more details about it soon, including some excerpts to whet the appetite, so do come back and visit. What I'll say now is that it is infused - absolutely sopping wet - with the life of the city of Paris. 

Meanwhile, I am happy, humbled, and hurrahing! As I thank God for His remarkable, astonishing ways, grab your nearest glass (or mug) of something and ching ching with me!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

When this world is not enough.

I am a believer in the world. That is, that creation all around me sings the music of the spheres and that if I align the angle of my gaze along the glories all around, I will be brought again to a love for the One who made all. Really, all of them. C'mon, soul. Remember those things, how they crown your life.

Yes. I walked home last night from the grocery store, because he gave me two strong legs and breath to do so. When the sweet red juneberies reached down and said "hello" behind the Home Depot, I reached up for them and accepted them as total gift. Sweet red juice over my fingers and in my mouth, and imagined in future tarts and muffins in the weeks ahead. 

Flesh and blood friends show up at my doorstep today and we break bread together and crack the covers of a dog-eared book that took us all by surprise and storm over the past few weeks. What words! They flow and gather in little pools around our feet, after the initial torrent of reading and thought. We skip along the beachside, pointing out little scrambling things and gorgeous, overarching themes like a sunset going down big, round and orange in the watery west.

The breeze through an open afternoon window frame. Rest.

These are the gifts, and I am naming them today. I do this because sometimes there are moments of quiet desperation. And it's strange, but they come at the most unlikely of times, when all seems broad, bright and well. Suddenly, inexplicably, I am brought up short by the reality that I am a whiff of grass sent flying by the slightest ache. I am but dust.

Dean Young's recent poem begins with "If bodies weren't so beautiful" and ends with "If only my body wasn't borrowed from dust." Indeed. But then again, the Creator of all spits in the dust, rolls it between his fingers, and effects the messy miracle. I see again, brought clean by the mud-of-the-world-made-holy.

When this world is not enough, He remakes me.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Lessons From Things That Grow

Here it's been another awfully long pause since I've been flinging words around in this space, but there is something in me that keeps coming back. The urge to write. To throw the ends of threads out there and see if they stick to anything long enough to weave a web.

These days, the insects hum in and about the squash plants, and I read about how there are two kinds of vegetable blooms, male and female. Tiny beees flit from one to the other, dragging pollen on their miniscule, hairy legs, making fertilization possible, and therefore produce. I love that the creatures - so focused on their own, singular goal to work - end up creating food for other species. In the grand sceheme of things, so much is seemingly inadvertent and yet fruitful, essential. Could it be that this is a lesson for us humans? Throw your whole soul and body into that thing that drives you - and bear fruit and honey in your wake, almost unwittingly? This has got to be humility in some form or another. Good things, tossed off in the pursuing.

Tiny things, that take time to grow. Broccoli, for instance, takes a long season. I read the seed packet. 72 days from germination to maturation. I watch excitedly as the leaves pop up full and lush, and then there they stop, all of a sudden. It is as if the whole plant were on pause, but it is not. The action is inside, below the surface, and soon I begin to see evidence of this as a familiar shape pops up from the top of the stem a few laborious weeks later. Finally. I breathe.

Some things in the garden do not require the same kind of patience, and thank goodness. I'm not built for it as a human, it seems. It must take practice. And in the meantime, we get French breakfast radishes - "les radis" that we fell in love while scouring the Paris markets for new tastes and smells and sights all those years ago. Now we grow them on our home turf. We brought the memories home, but they are not statically nostalgic - no! They root, they grow, we feed on them. But only for a very short season, and then it's on to the sweet peas.

And speaking of the past let's reach further back for a moment and go to the very beginning. In the beginning were the woods. And the little house. A boxer puppy. A mom, a dad, a little girl, a baby on the way. A little path that ran nearby still skirts the property, and recently I take my very youngest brother - who knew nothing of this place except what we had told him in bits and pieces - and showed him the stretch of land we called home for a little while. The coniferous tree in front has had its splendid lower branches trimmed clean off, so my tent-like fort isn't there anymore. But it doesn't bother me like it used to, the way things change. After all, we have new dwelling to inhabit.

Mulberries grow at the new place. That symbol of renewed love of place, of found food, of family-as-friends. The neighbor who shares our property line with us (and therefore the fledging mulberry tree) was surprised to hear us sing its edible praises, but he acquiesced to leaving it stuck in the fence when I assured him I'd care for it. It's the only tree we've got so far, after all. You've got to start a garden with something, even if it's a brushy mess. We can care for it as we go on, don't worry. He left it in my hands. Thank goodness for such understanding neighbors.

Like the sparrows, we swoop down - in the cool of morning and evening - to feast here and there on this and that from the land. Summer has arrived, in full bloom.