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Category Archives: Worlds of Writing

Freedom in Structure

We all got up to weird pursuits during the pandemic, so I don’t think my sudden obsession with set forms in prose and poetry is all that eccentric? I lost so much that I used to delight in – long conversations with friends over coffee, dinner parties with fascinating interactions and goings on.  I find people mysterious and I like to come home and sit on my sofa to try to figure them out.  I am always puzzled why certain couples are together and love to ponder the conundrum of what attracts them to each other.

My friends developed some pretty odd lockdown hobbies. After crocheting like mad on her usual table runners and afghans, Alice took to crafting stranger and stranger beings – first a Bernie, then an elephant (orange, in Ganesha God style), and, finally, fuzzy rotund quasi-human beings squatting mysteriously on every service in her house.   Ruth developed a weird affinity for her houseplants, endowing them with names and personalities and engaging in intense inter-species discussions.  Cats and dogs suffered mental agonies in the hands of bored owners who refused to leave them to their own devices while insulting their existential felinity and doggedness by treating them (and dressing them!) like humans.

In this context, what I got into (besides sleeping with stuffed animals and bathing with my rubber ducky) wasn’t all that weird.

  I am a writer – in my youth of poetry, in my career of academic tomes, in retirement of novels, and presently of newspaper columns and features. Of necessity, I do a lot of reading, and as the pandemic wore on I became more and more focused on turns of phrase I stumbled across, until I decided to try some out for myself.

Antitheses, for but one example, are figures of speech based on words arranged in parallel structures that are opposite in meaning. 

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”   C.S. Lewis

“The United States Right long ago rejected evidence-based policy in favor of policy-based evidence.” Paul Krugman

So inspired, here is an antithesis I thought up to explain my theology to my skeptical (atheist, recovering-Catholic) friends;   “My faith is not based on my certainty of presence but on my uncertainty of absence.”

There is something liberating about putting words into set forms.  It is related to the paradoxical freedom you experience in a group that acts according to agreed-upon rules of conduct.   That is why the rule of law (January 6, evening) is so much more appealing than the law of misrule (January 6, afternoon). Another antithesis!

Yonks ago, at the beginning of the second wave of the Feminist Movement, we National Organization for Women members followed all kinds of procedures and by-laws which, we insisted, left us more liberated than Women’s Liberation.   While they mocked us as “bourgeois” in our “structural tyranny,” we thought they were hampering themselves with their “tyranny of unstructuralism.”  (it seems I have been alert to antithesis longer than I thought).

I started my writing life as a poet – dubbed, at various times, “a Georgia poet,” “a Wisconsin poet,” and “a Feminist poet.” I swiftly realized, however, that writing poetry wouldn’t feed my family, though I could get a raise if I wrote a book. Like a lot of long ago pass times my friends took up during the pandemic – knitting, board games, crosswords, jigsaw puzzles – I suddenly wanted to write poetry again.

This time, it was metaphysical poetry in set forms.  The metaphysical part has to do with the unusually complex stuff I found myself enjoying in my pandemic reading – how linear time relates to synchronous time, what quasars and quantum strings are up to, how fractals and algorithms structure the universe.  The thing is, in the past several years I have felt a familiar fizzling in my brain, the same cracking electricity running up to the ends of my hair that I experienced during a similar intellectual surge when I was 14 years old.  At 84, of all things, I feel it all again, although I am perfectly well aware that it could all fizzle out like a damp squib any day now.

There are all kinds of set forms in poetry – Haiku of just 17 syllables, Sonnets of 14 lines in patterns of Octaves and Sestets, along with Tercets and Quatrains, Rondeaus and Villanelles. I chose this last form for the poem I am about to subject you too. It has five (three-line) Tercets rhyming aba,  ends with a (four-line) Quatrain, “and with the first line of the first tercet serving as the last line of the second and fourth tercets and the third line of the initial tercet serving as the last line of the third and fifth tercet, these 2 refrain lines following each other to constitute the last two lines of the closing quatrain.” (The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics – I thought you might want to know this).

Well, I didn’t exactly conform to all that, but it was fun to get as close as I could.  Metaphysically, the pandemic lockdown left me digging and delving toward a slightly less dim grasp of the universe than before – but ask me tomorrow, when I will probably have changed my mind:

          FRACTAL VILLANELLE
I find I am a fractal of the heart
Of everything, all paradigms aligned:
Not mine nor yours nor anything apart.

Seed heads in whorls, and the intricate spread
Of mushroom rootlets do not spring from mind:
I find that they are fractals of the heart

Of all things. Ratios are where we start,
Alogorithmic in the womb, mathematically entwined
Not my geometry nor yours nor anything apart.

I find I am a fractal of the heart
In starling murmurations, patterned lines-
All swoops and dips and geometric arcs.

Did we spring from mystery? Some arcane art?
We can do the math, but never comprehend
How we became the fractals of a heart
Not yours nor mine nor anything apart.

Hope in a Time of Climate Armageddon

Dear Blog subscribers:

This is my Press Release for The Battle For the Black Fen with a slightly different emphasis  from my previous blog.

The Battle for the Black Fen. Moon Willow Press (Coquitlam, British Columbia) 2017.  ISBN: 978-1-927685-24-2  [Birmingham, Michigan]

We are out of our minds with worry that climate warming will eliminate not only whole shorelines and species of plants, insects, birds, animals, and reptiles but human life itself. We human beings, deluded that we can bend the natural world to gratify our every whim, have become global predators and planetary nemeses. This realization is so hard to bear that many deny scientific reality, while others, paralyzed with dread of impending climate doom, take no action whatsoever.

Enter Eco-Fiction. There are new genres of Cli-Fi and Solar Punk in the science fiction mode, with characters who adapt to climate warming and build new cultures; Arcadian descriptions of communities in harmony with nature; and traditional novels with plots based on environmental conflict.

Small boats to the rescue: longboats, like ones the Iraqi Madan use to ply their marshlands, and coracles, made of willow and canvas, are the crafts of choice in Annis Pratt’s Arcadian series Infinite Games, where marsh dwellers fight for their wetlands against developers trying to drain them for agriculture. Based on the historical conflict between Fen Tigers and Merchant Adventurers in England (1630-1930), Pratt’s writing examines the economic roots of environmental degradation, dramatizing why we act the way we do and how we can do better. These are compellingly plotted adventure novels with appeal for young and old alike.

Can fiction really do us any good in a time of climate Armageddon? Stories like Annis Pratt’s newly published The Battle for the Black Fen,” writes Citizen Scientist Sharman A. Russell, “help us imagine new ways, even as we are entertained by the human drama of characters and plot, war and love. Eco-fiction is a new and important genre in literature.”

Nature writing has always been a way to foster the defense of nature. The world of Pratt’s embattled Marshlanders takes readers into verdant wetlands that sustain the soul. Notes publisher Mary Woodbury.  “The Infinite Games series shares the author’s joy in nature’s splendor,”

The Marshlanders, Fly Out of the Darkness, The Road to Beaver Mill, and now The Battle for the Black Fen can be purchased at www.amazon.com

 

INFINITE GAMES, INFINITE HOPES

I have always loved Geoffrey Chaucer’s send off to Troilus and Criseyde:  “Go, lytl book, go, litel myn tragedye” (go little book, go my little tragedy).  I intone his hail and farewell every time  put a manuscript in the mail or, more recently, hit the  send button which delivers it to my publisher in an internet instant.  It is my affectionate send off for a book I have spent years writing, my fervent prayer that out there upon the deeps of the reading world someone will enjoy this bread I am casting upon the waters.

And so, this week, I am sending The Battle for the Black Fen,  the last of my four-volume eco-fiction series that I have spent twenty years writing, out into the world.  Everything that I have ever longed for – love, friendship, family fellowship,  a life led in harmony with community and nature, human beings working together for the good of our beloved planet – is in my Infinite Games novels.  Here, in the final novel to the series, it all comes down to one decisive conflict between my self-sustaining Marshlanders and greedy developers.

Years ago, apropos of  white writers using tribal images and spiritual practice in our work, my Native American students challenged me: “Don’t you have some nice Euro-pagan ancestors you can write about instead of us?”   That was when the Fen Tigers,  marsh dwellers in the east of England who fought for three hundred years to keep their wetlands from drainage by “Merchant Adventures” and who probably  included some of my  Lincolnshire ancestors, became my inspiration.

It is all about the  question of whether we can build the worlds we long for or whether we will be crushed at last by greed and environmental degradation.

Can we abandon our finite games between winners and losers, between people with power and people they have power over? Is there time, before the demise of the human species or of even our entire planet,  to engage joyfully together in infinite games where everyone wins and we all share power amongst us?

In the Metro Detroit Area, you can buy your copy of The Battle for the Black Fen at the Paper Trail Books, 414 South Washington in Royal Oak.  All four volumes are available at Amazon.com.

 

Battle Writing

 

Of course there is a battle: this novel I am working on is called The Battle for the Black Fen.  The whole point is the battle. My three previous novels in the series are all geared toward battling it out in the end. I have always know there would be a battle.  But how do I write a battle?

Input from grandson #1: I haven’t killed enough of my own people.

Oh dear oh dear,  who  should I choose to die from among characters I have lived with and loved the whole series long? (Disclosure: we are talking twenty years here).

Input from grandson 2: you need a map!

(Query: Is this a guy thing?)

I drew a map, he drew a map, I superimposed them and made a nice copy, if I say so myself, on a special large-item machine at the copy shop, but the first novel’s publisher shrank it down so no one could read it.  Then my daughter  gently remarked that my map looked too amateur.  Besides, it didn’t cover the landscape my characters traverse in the last volume.

A wonderful cartographer, D.N.Frost, popped up on my twitter feed.  After considerable back and forth and much tweaking of detail, we had our map!

But I still have to write the battle scenes. Although I am no fan of action movies, I was impressed  by the way the battle was portrayed in the movie version of J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Return of the King. There was action all over the place, but the director avoided muddle by going scene by scene, from one limited vignette of action to another. Enemies on elephants!   Ents (marching trees) join the fray!

In the build up to the battle for the Black Fen, my characters were in three companies and one enemy militia. Very orderly.  However, the purpose of the companies was to call widely scattered communities to battle, during which members of The Marshland Company, the Delta Company, and the Dunlin Company joined various allies. As a result, when the battle was joined they were distributed all over the fen among Crane Islanders, Stilt Walkers, Turtle Islanders, Fox’s Earth folks – you can see how complicated it all became.

That is where the way the Tolkien movie was constructed –  skirmish by skirmish – came in handy. Also, for a unity of perspective, I positioned my rear guard on the top of the Moor of Nern to watch the action spread over the fen below them.

In the middle of all this heady battle writing,  my excellent new map informed me that I had written southeast when it should be southwest and northeast mixed up with southwest and that, somehow, a couple of extra characters I never really developed have slipped into the action.  Edits all around.

(Query: has my  publisher figured out I am dyslexic yet?)

These last edits took place during a very  dark time in our lives, when the Power of Mordor seems to be closing in and the Dark Eye sweeps over our land determined to destroy our hopes for a better world of being .  And that is why we story tellers go on telling our stories, hoping against hope that the Ring of Power will not fall into the wrong hands and that, puny as we may feel, our strength will suffice for the battle.

 

 

 

 

Midsummer, and the Living is Exciting

By this time most summers, I expect my living to be easy – keeping up with my correspondence, a blog here and there, short pieces of nature writing to accompany lots of time out of doors – but this summer, things are more exciting than usual.

With the help of my (very) patient publisher, Mary Woodbury of Moon Willow Press in Canada, I am doing the final proofreading of The Battle For the Black Fen, the last novel of my eco-fiction series.  Our publication date is August, so I have kept my eyes on my computer screen to find every lost comma, confusing bit of dialogue, and typo.

A couple of tips I have picked up while proofing: in dialogue, always state who is speaking.  Silly me, I figured that if I know who it was, my reader must get it too; similarly, if I start with “Clare thought” and have her musing away about other characters besides herself I had better bring her name in again, even in the same paragraph. And those pesky quotation marks that seem to have vanished into thin air, not to mention the commas and periods before the ends of the quotations…..needless to say, my eyes have been glued to the page.

I never like to dwell in my brain for days on end,   so I have been to my Betsie River cabin a couple of times, and every visit the temperature has plunged to 50 degrees or lower during the (summer?) nights. The wood turtle laid her eggs in mid June; now that other people appreciate my nature observations,  I did my duty as a “citizen scientist”  by reporting her to the Michigan turtle authorities.

By the end of June, tiny fry have hatched and flit about in the warmer shallows, and les becs scies, saw-toothed ducks (mergansers) that give the river its name, are busy and active.

And so are the beaver. Last winter they didn’t fell whole stands of slender trees but were hungry enough to chew completely around the trunk of a sturdy hardwood:


 

This circular gnawing serves two purposes:  the beaver get to eat the inner bark that they can reach and, at the same time, fell the tree so that they can eat the rest. I have never seen them drag a tree this heavy into a dam. It might be possible, but I think mine are bank beaver, only stripping such larger trees for nourishment.

So I let the babble and ripple of the river rest my mind for a while, strengthening my spirit for one last edit of my novel.

Every day of this daunting political year, my fictional battle between a self-sustaining nature-loving people and cruel enemies greedy for wealth and self-aggrandizement seems less a fictional plot than a grim reality. We are trapped in a finite game of victory and defeat; only if we give up on this hoary and outdated paradigm will any of us – enemies and friends alike –  survive. Are we strong enough, smart enough, open-minded enough, resilient enough to abandon the utter destruction of win/lose, you-or-me thinking for an infinite victory where everyone wins, nobody loses, so that we can enter at last the worlds we long for?

 

 

 

 

Another Spring Poem

Coming a close second to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ spring poem I wrote about last week is e.e. cumming’s #65 (he had an anarchistic irreverence about capitals and titles), especially because it is a poem that the love of my life read out loud to me on the ocean voyage where we (so very romantically) met:

I thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(I who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings and of the gay

                                  great happening illimitably earth)

……….

I taught poetry writing and appreciation for years, and on the first day of class I always asked my students to find a stethoscope and listen to their own heartbeats (alternatively, they could submerge themselves in a bathtub and get a friend to pound rhythmically on the outside). I wanted them to realize that poetry was not ultra-sophisticated and to be afraid of but as ordinary and familiar as their own heart beats, which go ta TAH ta TAH ta TAH in standard iambic pentameter.

The thing about Hopkins’ and cummings’ spring poems is that, when you read them out loud, you find a sequence of TAHs surrounded by a hodgepodge of tas in no such regular relationship.  It’s all in the accent, or downbeat, and that’s what makes their words leap around so festively.

It is spring, and we could certainly do with a bit of leaping around and festivity.

 

I like to play in yellow mud

all squishy-squash between my toes

I’d rather play in yellow mud

than smell a yellow rose.

 

(traditional children’s rhyme, in iambic pentameter)

Image

Spring Poem

I have always loved poetry, and I have always loved spring. Far and away my favorite poem in the world is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring”:

Nothing is so beautiful as spring –

When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush,

Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoling timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightening to hear him sing.

Try reading it out loud.

Did you notice something about the sounds?

It is written in a Welsh poetic tradition full of alliteration (words starting with the same letter) and “internal” rhymes that occur within the lines as well as at the ends. And the words sound just like what they are describing – anyone who has heard our American Wood Thrush, a relative of the English variety, knows how its song really does “rinse and ring” through the forest canopy.

I was so in love with Hopkins’ Welsh prosody (Dylan Thomas’s as well) that I wrote my own poetry in it. Fame-wise, that was one big mistake:  in the sixties and seventies, when terse verbal minimalism was in fashion, I was often dismissed as “Tennysonian,”  too “nineteenth century.”

Oh well,  my poems sounded terrific when I read them out loud; I was quite popular on the poetry reading circuit and was once known as a “Georgia” and, later on, a “Wisconsin” poet.  sic transit gloria mundi.

 

 

THE ROAD TO BEAVER MILL

On the front page of my web site I described Bethany leaping off a cliff into a gale. With the publication of the third volume in my Infinite Games Series, The Road to Beaver Mill, you can find out what happens next.
While eleven year old Bethany is excited and enthusiastic about soaring through the wind on a winged pony, her mother is purely terrified. Nonetheless, Clare must ride into the storm while the rest of the Marshlanders leave their refuge on Cedar Haven to climb the perilous Cliffs of Doom. It is time to call their allies to battle lest their enemies succeed in entirely draining their marshlands.
The problem is that everyone knows about these plans but Bethany, who is too stubborn and self-willed to trust with such important secrets. She visits her friend Ben’s Western Fisher folk, who want nothing to do with her; her own Eastern Fisher folk cousins welcome her warmly but she runs away from them too, stowing away on a ship heading for the dangerous merchant city of Brent.
My new novel is a Kindle Select Book, available here from Amazon.com .

 

 

 

 

MAPPING OUR WAY THROUGH THE DARKNESS

Last week we left Frodo walking fearfully toward the dread Land of Mordor. This week we find ourselves on a  perilous journey, every bit as daunting. We who have longed for a green and pleasant country of  fellowship and amity suddenly face the possibility that everything we have spent our whole lives working for could be overshadowed and destroyed.

These days I spend half of my week writing eco-fiction and half on environmental activism. The Infinite Games Series alternates utopia and dystopia,  the world of my self-sustaining Marshlanders against male domination fueled by economic greed. In plotting evil I look the worst possibilities of human behavior straight in the eye, but in seeking The Worlds We Long For I  tell stories about how good folk fight back.

There are four volumes in the series, two of which I have self-published.  In October, I received the immensely happy news from Mary Woodbury at Moon River Press that she will publish the last volume about The Battle for the Black Fen this year. In in the meantime, I am bringing out the third volume, The Road to Beaver Mill,  as a Kindle Ebook.

I keep a map of on the wall of my study to trace the perilous quests my characters undertake.  This autumn, I realized how amateurish it looks, so I got in touch with a marvelous cartographer, D.N. Frost, to produce a more professional-looking map for my  series. Here it is!.

World of the Marshlanders: eco-fiction of Annis Pratt http://www.dnfrost.com/2016/11/world-of-marshlanders-map-commission.html A map commission by D.N.Frost @DNFrost13 Part 1 of a series.

Are my novels escapes from the dystopian conditions of our present world?  Not at all: I intend them as stories that model how we can carry our little rings of power –  the will for the good which is our most precious possession – through the dangerous times in which we are called to live.

In the second half of my week I do environmental activism. What use is that now, with climate deniers come to power, threatening the fate of our beloved planet?
I work with two groups:  the Green Sanctuary Ministry of my local Unitarian church and the  Citizens’ Climate Lobby. an organization promoting carbon fees directly returnable to American households.
Grounds for hope:
       The rest of the world plans to carry out the Paris Agreements, even if the U.S. opts out.
         We can work for real change at the local and state levels where progress can be maintained; cities produce 70% of emissions and many have already put stringent climate legislation into effect.

The Eye of the Dark Lord is turning in our direction.

eye-of-doomFrodo’s ring could destroy the world, so he had to throw it over the cliffs of doom. The power of our rings is our small individual wills and our ability to combine with each other to create the world we long for.