A Second Blooming Retreat Speakers: Part 3

I’m following up on an earlier post, in which I gave a link to information about the A Second Blooming Retreat this March 1-3 in Starkville, Mississippi, and in which I introduced one of the workshop leaders, Ellen Morris Prewitt. The retreat schedule is also in that post.

In the following post, I introduced another speaker, Nina Gaby.

Jennifer for ASB retreatToday I’d like you to meet my friend Jennifer Horne.

I met Jennifer in 2006 when she was on a panel at the Southern Festival of Books the last year it was held in Memphis. Her panel featured the anthology she had edited with Wendy Reed, All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. It was a life-changing day for me, because I also met Wendy, Cassandra King, Lee Smith, and Beth Ann Fennelly, who would all become mentors for me and my late-life writing career. The next time I saw Jennifer was in November of 2008, at the last Southern Writers Reading event in Fairhope, Alabama. I told Jennifer (and Wendy) how much All Out of Faith had meant to me, and they said they were putting together a sequel. I was honored to have an essay published in that sequel in 2012: Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality.

Fast forward to 2017 when A Second Blooming was published, with Jennifer’s wonderful essay, “The Second Half,” included in the collection. And then in 2018, my second anthology, Southern Writers on Writing, included another essay by Jennifer. As the current Poet Laureate of Alabama, Jennifer has much wisdom to share with us at this retreat. Here’s a little more about her and the workshop she will be leading on Saturday night:

Jennifer Horne is the Poet Laureate of Alabama, 2017-2021, and is a writer, editor, and teacher who explores Southern identity and experience, especially women’s, through prose, poetry, fiction, and anthologies and in classes and workshops around the South.

How Our Stories Shape Us – How we tell our own stories, and those of others, affects the meaning we make of them—narrative not only orders but influences our knowledge, memory, and sense of self. Likewise, our senses contribute to and often evoke our memory of story: fresh-cut grass, chalk and erasers, home-cooked food. In this workshop, we’ll play with group stories, help you reflect on your own story, and begin the process of constructing fresh narratives by drawing on sensory memories and revising interpretations of past events.

ASB cover w PQ badgeAs I said in my previous posts, everyone who comes to the retreat will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE (which I edited). There is housing at The Homestead Education Center, which is included with your registration, or rooms are available at a nearby hotel. I can’t wait to hang out with all the interesting women who come to this retreat, and to share our hopes and inspirations for our “second bloomings”!

End of Year Book List for 2018

imageSo, last year I posted my book list, showing that I had read 44 books in 2017. Not sure what this says about me (I’m a slacker?) but in 2018 I only read 38 books—just over one book every two weeks. In comparing the two years, I can’t figure out how I read 18 fewer books this year than the previous, since in 2017 I published 3 books and traveled to over 40 events in 7 states for those books, whereas in 2018 I published 1 book and only traveled to about 25 events in 5 states. Where did my reading time go in 2018? A close examination of my life indicates that I probably spent those remaining reading hours watching television. Yes. I love to watch television. This might be unusual for a writer, but I grew up watching TV (starting in the mid 1950s when we got our first set) and didn’t become a reader until I was in my 50s! I wanted to be an actor before I wanted to be a writer, which explains a bit about my love for the screen.

In my (self) defense, I will say that in 2018 I WROTE another book—my linked short story collection FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY—so there’s that. (Pats self on the back.) And I organized my personal essay collection, PILGRIM INTERRUPTED, into sections and wrote the introduction. And I spent a good deal of time querying literary agents and independent presses for both of these books. (Pats self on the back. Again.)

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to notice the types of books I read each of these years:

2017: 23 fiction (all novels); 20 nonfiction (9 memoirs, 1 collection of micro-memoirs, 2 spiritual/religious, 2 psychology/self-help, 5 inspiration/essays, 1 art/history); and 1 poetry collection. 18 of those 44 books were by authors I know personally.

2018: 19 fiction (16 novels, 2 short story collections, 1 book of 4 novellas); 15 nonfiction (5 memoirs, 4 spiritual/religious/inspirational books, 3 essay collections, 1 oral biography, 2 psychology/self help);4 poetry collections. 24 of the 28 books I read in 2018 were by authors I know personally.

So, here’s my list of books read in 2018, actually in the order in which I read them. I’m taking a risk of hurting my friends’ feelings, since I know 23 of these authors, but I’m going to put an asterisk by my favorites. Please keep in mind how very subjective this is—certain topics and stories resonate with people who have shared experiences and interests—and not always an indication of how excellent the prose is, although in some cases that’s the reason for the asterisk. I will also add that I read the first 100 pages or so of THE FRIEND, winner of the National Book Award, but lost interest. Maybe it’s just because I’m not a dog person? As a writer, I wanted to see what it was about the book that won it such a prestigious award. Just didn’t get it. See how subjective this is? (NOTE: THE FRIEND did make the New York Time’s list of 100 Notable Books of 2018. So did 2 books I read and liked very much, IN PIECES by Sally Field and EDUCATED by Tara Westover.
What’s up next for me in 2019? Michelle Obama’s BECOMING, Patti Reagan Davis’s memoir about her father’s journey with Alzheimer’s, THE LONG GOODBYE, and THE LETTERS OF FLANNERY O’CONNOR AND CAROLINE GORDON, edited b y Christine Flanagan, are on top of my stack (which is huge!) . . . but I’ll be going to the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in January again, where I’ll visit with over 50 fellow authors and lots of prolific readers, so no telling how many books I’ll come home with!

Mourning DoveHappy reading in 2019! Please leave a comment here or on Facebook and tell me YOUR favorites books read in 2018! HAPPY NEW YEAR

Little Broken Things by Nicole Baart

Hunger by Roxane Gay

*Gradle Bird by J.C. Sasser (my review is here)

Spells & Oregano by Patricia V. Davis

Bead by Bead by Suzanne Henley (my review is here)

*Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton (my review is here)

My Exaggerated LifeThe Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life by Nicole Roccas (my post about this book is here)

*My Exaggerated Life: Pat Conroy as told to Katherine Clark (my Q & A with author Katherine Clark is here)

The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith

Mississippi by Ann Fisher-Wirth (poems) and Maude Schuyler Clay (photography)

*Confessions of a Christian Mystic by River Jordan

The Mutual UFO Network by Lee Martin (my review is here)

The MasterpieceIn Praise of Wasting Time by Alan Lightman

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Reading the Coffee Grounds and Other Stories by Niles Reddick (my review is here)

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Lewy Body Soldier by Norman McNamara

Tracking Happiness by Ellen Morris Prewitt (my review is here)

Our Prince of ScribesWhere the Creek Runs by Mary Abraham

*The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis (read my chat with Fiona Davis here)

Rush by Lisa Patton (read my interview with Lisa here)

*Our Prince of Scribes, edited by Nicole Seitz and Jonathan Haupt (my review here)

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

A Southern Season: Four Stories from a Front Porch Swing (incl. Claire Fullerton)

Becoming Mrs. Lewis*Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry

Becoming a Healing Presence by Albert S. Rossi

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott (a few words on this book here)

The Small Door of Your Death by Sheryl St. Germain

Navigating Disaster by Sheryl St. Germain (a few words about St. Germain here)

Madstones by Corey Mesler

*Congratulations, Who Are You Again? by Harrison Scott Key (my review here)Congratulations

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

*In Pieces by Sally Field (my review here)

*Educated by Tara Westover

Ya Yas in Bloom by Rebecca Wells

Next Year in Havana by Chanel CleetonEducated

In Pieces

End of Year Book List

With just over two weeks left in 2017, I decided to put together my “end of year book list” and share it with my readers. I also decided to try and construct a “book tree” to celebrate the season, using all the books I’ve read and published this year. I think I made the base too wide, so the tree isn’t as tall or shapely as I hoped, but after two attempts, I gave up and snapped a picture of my best effort. Now I’ve got to figure out where to put these books, since all my book shelves are full!

Book tree

 

What an amazing year it’s been! Publishing three books—Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, and Cherry Bomb—and having an essay published in another anthology (Take Care: Tales, Tips, and Love From Women Caregivers, edited by Elayne Clift) have made for an exciting year. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have driven 9,800 miles (in 8 states) for readings, signings, salons, book club meetings, library events, and literary festivals from March through December. My final two events for the year are coming up this week: Thursday night I’m reading CHERRY BOMB at Novel bookstore in Memphis, and Saturday I’m signing CHERRY BOMB at Books-A-Million in Southaven, Mississippi. I’ve got six more events scheduled for CHERRY BOMB in 2018, and then my fourth book will be released in May: Southern Writers on Writing—another anthology I edited.

As a writer, I find that reading is not only enjoyable but crucial to my growth. I read a wide variety of books, from poetry and spirituality to self-help/psychology and other nonfiction, books about art, essay anthologies, memoir, and fiction (mostly novels.) As of today, I’ve read 46 books in 2017, and hope to finish one to two more before the end of the year. I read 38 books in 2016… you can read that list here if you’re curious.

I know 18 of the authors of these books personally, and would love to meet many of the others some day, especially Anne Lamott, Joan Didion, and Ann Patchett. If I had to choose a favorite book from 2017, it would be Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. It’s the book I wish I had written.

What’s up for 2018? I’m currently reading Gold Dust Woman: The Biography of Stevie Nicks by Stephen Davis. This is a real departure for me, as I rarely read biographies, but this one really captures the culture and music of much of my life, and I’m really enjoying it. And on the top of my “to read” stack are three novels:

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford

Secrets of the Devil Vine by Faith Kaiser

Little Broken Things by Nicole Baart

So, here’s my list. It’s pretty much in the order in which I read the books. I’d love to know what you read this year. If you publish a year-end list, please leave me a link as a comment here or on Facebook. Happy holiday reading!!!

 

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

A Southern Girl by John Warley

Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer

Garden in the East: The Spiritual Life of the Body by Angela Doll Carlson

The Statue and the Fury: A Year of Art, Race, Music, and Cocktails by Jim Dees

This Close to Happy: A Reckoning With Depression by Daphne Merkin

Heartbreak Hotel by Anne Rivers Siddons

The Girls of August by Anne Rivers Siddons

Unspeakable Things, a novel by Jackie Warren Tatum

Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott

Truly Human: Recovering Your Humanity in a Broken World by Kevin Scherer

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

South and West by Joan Didion

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwen

Belles’ Letters II edited by Jennifer Horne and Don Noble

The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels by Anka Muhlstein

Camino Island by John Grisham

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

Perennials by Julie Cantrell

An Unforseen Life by Mary Ann Connell

My Soul Looks Back by Jessica B. Harris

That Woman From Mississippi by Norma Watkins

The Bookshop at Water’s End by Patti Callahan Henry

This Naked Mind by Annie Grace

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

The Cage-Maker by Nicole Seitz

The Address by Fiona Davis

Among the Mensans by Corey Mesler

Drinking: A Love Story by Carolyn Knapp (re-read)

Lit by Mary Karr (re-read)

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

Dancing With My Father by Leif Anderson

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Mississippi’s Poet Laureate Waxes Eloquent on Poetry and Prose

In lieu of an original blog post today, I encourage you to read this wonderful post by my friend Beth Ann Fennelly, the Poet Laureate of Mississippi, over at the Brevity blog:

“My Affair With the Sentence.”

22282109_359766681112308_5299649755912659950_n1
Kudos to Beth Ann for her newly released book, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs. I missed her launch at Square Books in Oxford last night, but I’m looking forward to seeing her and hearing her read at Burke’s Books in Memphis on November 7.

Inside Me

Corey Mesler reading from AMONG THE MENSANS

Corey Mesler reading from AMONG THE MENSANS

Last Thursday night I had the wonderful blessing of hearing Corey Mesler read from his latest poetry collection, Among the Mensans, at Burke’s Books here in Memphis. (Corey and his wife Cheryl own Burke’s.) Garrison Keillor read one of Corey’s poems, “Last Night I Was a Child Again in Raleigh,” on his nationally syndicated radio show, Writer’s Almanac, on September 12th.

My favorite poem that Corey read that night was “This is My Body.”

But when I got home and read the rest of the collection, I got a new favorite. I asked Corey’s permission to reprint it here. I think you’ll see why I like it so much.

Have a great week everyone!

 

among-the-mensans-finished-coverInside Me

 

By Corey Mesler

 

Inside me

there is a tiny woman

made of glass

climbing the architecture

of my bones.

When I laugh

she tinkles like a chime.

when I cry

she hides in the shadow

of my heart.

Once, on a night when
I almost lost myself,

she spoke for me.

She said, gather all the unused

words. I am about to be me.

Ten (Mostly Southern) Contemporary Poets to Inspire You This Month #npm17

April is National Poetry Month, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite poetry collections by contemporary (mostly southern) 2017npm-poster_0poets. All but one of them I call friends (I haven’t met Mary Waters from Little Rock yet, although we have corresponded by email.) and I hope you’ll check them out, purchase a volume or two, and find inspiration in their verses—especially during April, but for always.

 

Compass of Affection by Scott Cairns

 

Tender Hooks by Beth Ann Fennelly

 

Little Wanderer by Jennifer Horne

 

Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr

 

Before the Great Troubling by Corey Mesler

 

Evening Body by Karissa Knox Sorrell

 

American Happiness by Jacqueline Allen Trimble

 

Other Stars Waiting by Mary N. Waters

 

Heaven Was the Moon by Kory Wells

 

Five Terraces by Ann Fisher-Wirth

 

11006452_10205904133316314_2399811615040176712_nFour of these (southern) poets contributed essays to the upcoming anthology I’m editing, So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi 2018): Beth Ann Fennelly, Jennifer Horne, Corey Mesler, and Jacqueline Allen Trimble.

 

And here’s a link to my one published poem: “The Imperfect Peace” (2008).

 

I’ll close with a favorite line from Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer’s Day”: 

 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

 

… or even with the month of April?

 

Have favorite contemporary poets? Please share them and their work with me here or on Facebook.

Traveling the World With Poet Jennifer Horne

Little Wanderer coverMy friend Jennifer Horne is a poet. She’s published several books of poetry, and also a collection of short stories. She’s also a traveler. The cover of her latest book, Little Wanderer, features a seventeenth century map of Iceland and the Faroe Islands surrounded by a sea of monsters. The image is mystical, like the poet whose latest words wait inside the covers of the book, poised to take the reader on journeys to Greece, Italy, Bucharest, Prague, Amsterdam, England, and back home to less exotic but no less colorful places like Arkansas and Alabama.

My personal favorites were in the section on Greece—probably because I’ve made two trips to Greece—as a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy I was on pilgrimage—and I have such vivid memories that were called to mind by Horne’s poems, especially the section called “Evil Eye.” In Meteora, she shows a woman’s grief over losing someone to a monastic call:

. . . We must sacrifice, you say, for the Lord.

Here I lie, your sacrifice, your lamb—

yet you walk ever higher up that rocky path,

never looking back, eyes set on the company of old men.

And later, in “Greece, I Love You, But You’re Making Me Crazy,” she explores issues of gender in her frustration that only men (and by the way, only male animals) are allowed on Mount Athos:

Still, you haven’t allowed me

            Onto Mount Athos

Or almost a thousand years!

            Are my female parts

So very frightening?

 

You say I’m impure

            But you throw your trash

out the window.

Horne captures another side of life in Greece in “Letter from an Athenian Wife,” in which a woman bemoans her place: “But Mother, the solitude! My servants have a better life,/meeting to chatter as they fill the water jugs, helping/one another in childbirth and sickness….”

As she turns her pen towards visits to Italy (where my husband and celebrated our fortieth anniversary—a trip all about the beauty of the land, the people, and the food) I loved her “Postscript to Paradise,” in which she takes the reader through her journey as a poet to a place of happiness:

. . . Do I say I’ve weathered the pain,

this ship of mine has reached calm harbor? I will say,

looking out my window at nothing much, I am happy just

            to love the world again.

Perhaps my favorite poem in the book for the sheer joy of its rhythm and fun of reading was “Abbastanza.” With a Dr. Seuss-type beating of her pen’s drum, she makes me want to buy that cottage in a village in Italy.

Heading East, Horne takes us to Bucharest with several poems revealing darkness and fear (“Night Watch: Bucharest, Revisited”) which transports the reader from Bucharest back to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1960. If that connection seems odd, you must get this book and read these poems in sequence to follow her emotional journey. The title poem, “Little Wanderer,” takes us vividly to Prague, as does “Sudek’s Studio.” Again, I loved this because of my own trip to Prague, where I remember with Horne, “walking down to the Old Town,/the Charles Bridge,/ clock tower, town hall….” And then there’s “Musee,” where Horne shows us how viewing nudes can help us feel more comfortable with our own bodies. (I had a similar experience in Italy once.)

Horne brings us back to the States with “Local Honey,” in which she remembers a time in her youth: “I’m always welcome . . ./soon gears shift/and I am twenty,/kissing Sam Fiasca/as we drive down Cantrell Hill/in his 1950-something/brown Ford pick-up….”

Jennifer Horne

Jennifer Horne

She switches gears with her ekphrastic piece, “Talisman,”—after a sculpture by Susan Perry and then gives us another glimpse of her soul in “Sound Over Water.”
It’s difficult to review this book without mentioning each and every poem. What a treasure. And what a joy to read it today, on the day after the presidential election, when my heart needed to take a journey away from all the craziness. Thank you for this gift, Jennifer.

Give yourself a gift—buy this book and enjoy the journeys inside. Or give it as a Christmas gift to someone who loves to travel, or just loves good poetry.

American Happiness

51aq7DWULpLMy friend Jennifer Horne recently told me about a wonderful poet who just released her first volume of poetry—American Happiness. Jacqueline Trimble did graduate work at the University of Alabama with Jennifer (another excellent poet who also writes prose) and Jennifer knew I would love her poems. She was right.

Jacqueline opens the book with these sentences in her preface, “How My Mother Taught Me to Write Poems”:

My mother was a foot soldier in the fight for civil rights, had a cross burned on her lawn, drove students to Lanier, a local high school, to integrate it and was sued along with CBS for comments she made on television. She was unafraid, dignified, and determined.

That’s how I would describe her poetry in this powerful book—unafraid, dignified, and determined. Jacqueline was the only black child the first year in her elementary school in Montgomery, Alabama. On her journey to the successful woman she is today, she experienced the dark underbelly of racism in the South and exposes it with brilliant verse in this collection.

But before we get to the section that deals most directly with racial issues, we are hit squarely in the gut and the heart with her reflections on the death of her mother with “The Day After Her Mother Died” and “Things That Are Lost.” These were particularly powerful for me, since I lost my own mother just five months ago. When she says, “I have lost the sound/of my mother’s voice,” I thought immediately about my own mother’s voice, trying to call it back, which I can still do. I even hear it in my own voice at times.

Jacqueline appeals to all our senses with “Church Women” (I can see, hear, and smell this one) and to our sense of place in “The Geography of Passion.” And she builds a world for her readers in “A Woman Tells the History of Her People” before sending us into the darkest parts of that world in the next section of the book, “American Happiness.”

Perhaps the strongest poem in this section is “The Klan Panhandles for Donations at the Intersection of Court Street and the Southern Bypass.” In my naiveté (although I did grow up in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1950s and ’60s) I could not have imagined this scene in Tuskegee, Alabama. But I did see a cross burning in a front yard in Jackson once, in 1964. My eighth grade boyfriend’s family had moved to Jackson from somewhere up North. I think his father did something to piss off the Klan, but I never understood what it was.

2a8d61f4-05ad-4d1a-a420-1cb274712e5eIn her title poem for the book, “American Happiness,” Jacqueline juxtaposes the fictional town of Mayberry with the real towns she grew up in. In Mayberry, she says, “folks were never colored/—not even black and white—/but beige, khaki,/a little gray.” The gray fades quickly in her next poem, “How To Survive As a Black Woman Everywhere in America Including the Deep South.”

Jacqueline Allen Trimble is an associate professor of English and chairperson of Languages and Literatures at Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama. She is a Cave Canem fellow and the recipient of a 2017 literary arts fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts. American Happiness is her first book. I’m sure it won’t be her last, as we all need to hear more from this brave and gifted writer. As Mark Childress, author of Crazy in Alabama says, “It is cause for celebration that Ms. Trimble is making poetry that is timely and timeless, elegant and brutal, wise and innocent.”


American Happiness is a MUST READ for everyone who grew up in the South, lives in the South, and even for our neighbors in the rest of the country who care about the rights of all people. Of course these issues have been addressed elsewhere, but not with the power of poetry like Jacqueline’s. Write on, Jackie.

Why I Don’t Hate Doing Laundry

This morning I did four loads of laundry while reading a wonderful new book of poetry by Jacqueline Allen Trimble, American Happiness. (Watch for a review soon!) I was so inspired that I stopped and wrote a poem myself. I’m not a “real” poet, but sometimes I like to explore the genre. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Jonathan, age 7 months, March 1978

Jonathan, age 7 months, March 1978

Why I Don’t Hate Doing Laundry

by Susan Cushman

 

The laundry sorter stands between bedroom

and bath—its four neat containers

keeping our soiled items in order:

Darks. Whites. Perma-press. And

dress shirts to take to the cleaners.

 

I use a woven basket to transport

one load at a time to the laundry room;

It is the same basket that our first child

played in, almost forty years ago—a

memory captured in a photograph

that fills my heart with love on laundry day.

 

Even the darks will be sorted before

they enter the shiny front-loading machines—the nicest

ones we have ever had—which came with the house;

Sorting the darks? Isn’t that a bit anal?

Not when you consider that some are heavy

and others are light and need a shorter dry time.

 

The perma-press wants the lightest touch—only

fifteen minutes in the dryer and then on to

hangers right away, my hands smoothing collars

and shaking out the tiny wrinkles that remain

before they return to my husband’s closet

for another day, another trip, another meeting.

 

Whites are easy—warm, warm, white I told

our children when they were young;

cold, cold colors for everything else.

And thirty minutes on warm to dry and fluff

before the task of folding—taught to me

by my husband over forty years ago,

when he also showed me how to iron.

Skills he learned in childhood.

 

I do miss the smell of clothes warmed by the sun

on the clothesline I used as a newly wed;

Like the one my mother used—or sometimes

the maid—when I was young.

And so I often smell the white tee shirts and

warm towels as I pull them from the dryer,

hoping for a memory of those sunshiny days.

 

So much chaos in the world and sometimes

in our lives today, leaving me screaming

for order—for something I can control—even

if it’s only clothing and household linens.

I tried to control our children but now they

have their own families, their own chaos,

their own laundry. I wonder if they remember

warm warm white and cold cold colors.

Faith on Friday: (Our Nation is) Yearning for Mother-Love

Part of my icon studio, six years ago

Part of my icon studio, six years ago

I miss writing icons. Yesterday I found this link to a wonderful video that demonstrates the process of writing an icon, and I found myself enthralled as I watched. (The iconographers are Anton and Ekaterina Daineko, a married couple from Minsk, Belarus, who are teaching workshops in the U.S. this summer.) I even got a little teary-eyed. And while I feel strongly that I will never return to this liturgical art form, I will always be thankful for the time I spent learning, practicing and teaching it, because of the greater understanding and appreciation of iconography those years gave me. (If you missed my post about five years ago on why I retired from writing icons, it’s here.) 

And so this morning when I went to our icon corner to do my morning prayers, I smiled as I read about the saints who are commemorated in the Orthodox Church today. And especially about this event, which is also commemorated: “The Appearance of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God.” In 1579 in Kazan, Russia, a terrible fire destroyed part of the city, but spared a nine-year-old girl named Matrona, although her house was burned. The Mother of God appeared to Matrona and directed her where to find a miracle-working icon, buried under a stove, covered in ashes, but wrapped in cloth for protection. The icon was taken to the Annunciation cathedral, where it became known for healing the blind and curing eye diseases. A church was built on the site where it was found, but sadly it was later destroyed by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution.

I found this wonderful poem in the book, Mother of God, Similar to Fire (given to me by friends a few years ago), which contains beautiful icons paired with poems—a form of ekphrastic writing that I enjoy immensely. The icons are written by William Hart McNichols and the poetry is by Mirabai Starr. I don’t have permission to publish her poem in its entirely, so I’ll quote a part of it here:

KazanOur Lady of Kazan

You lived a fully, deeply human life,

And this humanity is what helps us feel connected to you.

This world is yearning for your Mother-Love.

Show our leaders how to guide us

With respect for our dignity and well-being.

Teach us to love one another

With boundless patience

And unbridled joy.

 

I found these words—and the beautiful icon (which I’ve only shared a detail of here) comforting to offer as a prayer as our nation mourns the loss of more lives to violence on our streets and in our homes.

© Copyright SusanCushman.com
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