Researching and writing about puritan poet Anne Bradstreet

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Being loved by your enemies: Roger Williams

I’ve often been struck by how much people seemed to like Roger Williams.  Williams, you will recall, was  the Puritan minister who was thrown out of New England for teaching unpalatable things concerning holiness and rights to land.  Even while ministers and authority figures in Massachusetts opposed him, some of those very opponents also continued to respect him.  The high point of that strand of the story came when The Suits arrived at Williams’ door to bundle him on to the next boat back to England.  But he was not there:  he had been warned by a friend and fled.  Years later, Williams revealed the name of that friend:  one of the biggest Suits of all, his opponent John Winthrop.  
How does someone retain the respect and friendship of one’s “enemies?”  I am not referring to mortal enemies, but those on the opposite side of the fence -- those across the aisle -- the yin to one’s yang.  Perhaps this snippet from an NPR book review sheds some light.  
The book in question is Paris:  A Love Story, by Kati Marton.  It’s an autobiography, covering Marton’s marriage to diplomat Richard Holbrooke.  I was struck by this story:
When Holbrooke fell ill, Marton received calls of concern from two leaders Holbrooke was often at odds with — President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan.
"I think they understood that he was throwing himself body and soul into the work," says Marton. "I was attending Mass with my friend Samantha Power, and Karzai's call came through, so I stepped outside. . . . I said to him, 'Mr. President, for Richard, Afghanistan is more than an assignment. He's absolutely passionate about your country and about your people, and committed to finding some kind of a solution to this.' And I thought I heard emotion when he said, 'We need him back here.'
"And that [was] followed a nanosecond later by a call from the President of Pakistan," Marton continues. "He said, 'Kati, I told him he was overdoing it. He was traveling to the most awful places and crawling inside those tents in refugee camps, and I told him, 'Richard, you're not as young as you think.' So it was a real human-to-human conversation. And whatever anybody says about President Zardari's weaknesses, for me, he was a human being.”
An honorable man can be recognized as such even by his opponents, and human affection can be refreshingly broad in its boundaries.  I think Winthrop recognized in Williams things that he himself valued -- spiritual passion, love for God and a commitment to live by the truth.  Even when he did not agree with what Williams called truth, he nevertheless recognized in him an honorable man.  It was enough to impel him to slip over to his house under the cover of night and say, “Roger, they’re coming for you.  You’ll have to run for it.  But remember, friend -- try not to overdo it."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Poetry for Dummies

Bad news, folks . . . writing poetry is more than rhyming emotion-laden words in meter.  Worse news:  17th-century poetry was a craft as much as an art, and I think I probably should learn a lot of the under-the-hood stuff if I’m going to understand Ole Annie, my poet buddy whose life I’m trying to recreate.

I’ve had some helps in this department -- a couple of books, good ones:  Puritan Poets and Poetics, and Sinful Self, Saintly Self:  the Puritan Experience of Poetry.  They have further directed me to a 16-the century book,The Art of English Poesie, which is a great window into the craft of poetry writing.  But . . . sigh.  Constructing a poem is like building a cathedral; it has rules and conventions and its own terminology as well.  And I should know something about all that so I can understand what the heck she was attempting when she sat down to write.  So I have to learn it.  Some of it.  Enough to get along; the poetic equivalent of “Ou est la salle de bain?” for the American in France.  Well, more than that, I guess.

And when I finish that, maybe I can go back to learning about 17th-century ships, a task I happily set aside last spring.  Humph.

I can’t even figure out what a “foot” is.  It’s a poetic term, and it’s related to syllables, but it’s not syllables.  Mr. Poesie Art didn’t make it clear, and I haven’t consulted Dr. Google yet.

But I am learning.  Learning, learning, learning, getting comfy inside Anne Bradstreet’s mental world, and painting it out again in a story that is now at about 30,000 words.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Writing Pains #2

Abigail's small round face, with its pretty cheeks, mild brow and petite nose, was all feminine softness.  But the tilt of her chin, the ease of her hands resting on the coverlet with knuckles lightly flexed spoke in low tones of her authority.

Pretty prose, eh?  Or maybe not.  I wrote that this morning, and at the moment I’m very fond of it.  But maybe in a week or a year I’ll hate it so much that I will have to take down this post and personally excise it from the memory of anyone who has read it.  Writing is so emotional.

The funny part of it is that the paragraph I wanted to write this morning wasn’t supposed to be about Abigail at all, but rather was supposed to make evident This Other Thing about a different character.  But I got caught up in another current -- the horses got the bits in their teeth and ran -- the lunatics got in control of the madhouse -- and I ended up with something very different.  That happens to me on a regular basis when I’m writing.  It feels rather like inspiration, though I suspect it is rooted in a lack of discipline or a lack of clear vision of where I’m going, in this paragraph, today.  It’s rather like taking a right turn, fully intending to end up on Main Street, and imagining you’re about to -- but ending up at the fair grounds instead. The fair grounds are all well and good, except you still have business to attend to on Main Street.

I’ve also had quite a time with certain characters not wanting to settle down and behave themselves.  One very important character has refused to be anything except a caricature, a cartoon of himself, floating obscenely above scenes like some sort of oversized flesh-colored balloon.  But today I caught him skulking around a corridor at the start of Chapter 2 -- why hadn’t I noticed his toes sticking out from behind that tapestry? -- and I dragged him out and cuffed him a time or two; and he settled down and actually behaved like an adult.

I think I’m starting to be irritated with that paragraph that I opened this post with.  “Feminine.”  Really, Joyce?  That’s the best you can do?  Back to the drawing board, but not today.