Historical and Literary Fiction / Essays / Poetry / Reviews /Book Cover and Interior Illustrations / Pet Portraits and Other Commissioned Artwork … "Prose may be the lowest order of the rhythmic composition, but we know it is capable of such purity, sweetness, strength, elasticity, as entitle it to a place as a sister art with poetry." Thomas Hall Caine (1853 -1931) from his firsthand "Reflections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti"
“How many children could say their home hosted the humblest and highest at the same time, on any given evening invaded by expatriates their father never hesitated to invite in? Un cercatore or un seccatore, beggar or bore, Papa satirized them. Through the back door he welcomed a bookseller, organ grinder, biscuit maker, vagrant macaroni man, and one called Galli who thought he was Christ. Others entered that way with a Masonic knock and handshake. Through the front, disgraced Italian counts and generals made as officious an entrance as a small house on Charlotte Street afforded. Mama blushed every time she spoke of the visit from Nicolò Paganini, ‘all in black, without his violin but boasting the long hair he tossed about when he performed.'”
Christina Georgina Rossetti is the youngest of four siblings in a close-knit, creative Anglo-Italian family. A spirited child like her brother, Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in adolescence she struggles with being sickly and depressed, believing she would “be part of the statistic of girls who never made it to womanhood”. She emerges and matures, “a solitary dove upon her branch”, realizing her voice through poetry, “composed out of remembering while trying to forget.”
Her respectable Victorian life teeters on the edge of a bohemian one. “A raucous entrance by artists Holman Hunt, John Millais, George Stephens, and sculptor Thomas Woolner, was hardly quietened by Gabriel who never doubted his family needed livening up.” London is Christina’s beginning and end. Travels, possibilities and impossibilities for love and marriage, ambivalent ambition, piety, charity, illness, and bonds of blood, heart, and soul tell her story. Journeys through reflection and imagination create her legacy.
The Dove Upon Her Branch A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti by DM Denton
Preview book trailer for DM Denton’s fictional account of the 19th century poet, Christina Rossetti, youngest sister of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood founder, painter, and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Excerpts from poems by Christina Rossetti (in the Public Domain) Music by Mendelssohn: no 1 Songs Without Words, Opus 30 (Public Domain piano from MusOpen)
Too late for love, too late for joy, Too late, too late! You loiter’d on the road too long, You trifled at the gate: The enchanted dove upon her branch Died without a mate; The enchanted princess in her tower Slept, died, behind the grate; Her heart was starving all this while You made it wait.
The Rossetti clan met the New Year of 1850 with excitement and trepidation over a risky venture: a periodical put out by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to circulate its work and ideas through poetry, prose, and art. At first all offerings were anonymous but on the second printing the names of the authors and artists were admitted, except for the only female contributor, Christina Rossetti.
“Who was there?”
“Everyone, I think. All the official PRB set, as well as Maddox Brown, Cave Thomas, Deverell swiveling his chair the entire evening, Hancock repeating ‘Guardami ben, ben son Beatrice’ to goad Gabriel, and too much coffee drunk.”
“At least they settled on a name.”
“Thoughts Towards Nature?” Christina hoped. “I like its simplicity.”
“Oh, dear. They didn’t choose The PRB Journal?”
“No. And not The Scroll, The Harbinger, The Seed, The Sower, First Thoughts, The Truth-Seeker, or The Acorn.”
She did, remembering Gabriel’s preference, and liked it, almost as much as her first choice, after all, just an elaboration on it: The Germ: Thoughts Towards Nature in Poetry, Literature, and Art.
Ellen Alleyn appeared and disappeared through her words, warbling melodically and melancholically, a songbird heard but never seen except perched on a page, and then by so few. Her engagement in life was meant to be sweet and safe, a natural movement from branch to branch towards the inclination of nesting. Instead, she was senselessly shot down by naïve expectations, which the afterlife would relentlessly look back on as bad judgment.
It is an empty name I long for; to a name why should I give the peace of all the days I have to live.
It was a name Gabriel invented after the first printing of The Germ, so, when it was decided not to risk presenting further issues as the work of one, Christina, unlike the other six male contributors, could continue to conceal her identity. She should have argued she wasn’t afraid of owning her poems, that it might be what she needed to do to grow stronger as a writer. From far away in wintry Wiltshire, where she was visiting Aunt Charlotte, a disagreement with Gabriel, via letters he was unlikely to answer, was unwinnable.
Christina was at home for the New Year’s Eve delivery of fifty copies of the first issue to Charlotte Street by the printer, George Tupper. Throughout that last day of 1849, its contributors arrived. Papa was delighted with the complicated company, while Mama panicked at the lingering of so many hungry, thirsty men eager for a new decade and the wild ride of rebellion. She sent Betsey to the shops with the week’s allowance for food, Gabriel convincing her that the success of the magazine would repay her hospitality and “make a little starvation worth it.”
My apologies for not posting for a while. I have been working furiously to finish my novel, five plus years in the making, about the poet Christina Rossetti (youngest sister of Pre-Raphaelite founder, painter and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti), The Dove Upon Her Branch. Within the week the 1st draft should be done! Then another month for me to self-edit it before I send it to the publisher of my previous three novels, All Things That Matter Press, in hopes they will accept it. After that, I look forward to some time to complete the cover art and interior illustrations.
Maiden May sat in her bower; Her own face was like a flower Of the prime, Half in sunshine, half in shower, In the year’s most tender time.
Her own thoughts in silent song Musically flowed along, Wise, unwise, Wistful, wondering, weak or strong: As brook shallows sink or rise.
From Maiden May by Christina Rossetti
I’m acknowledging May Day in a less frolicsome manner than I have in the past, considering how the world continues to suffer evil and cowardice, but, also, is blessed with the beauty of spring that encourages generosity, open-hearted-and-mindedness, courage, and hope.
During her late twenties and thirties, Christina Rossetti volunteered at London’s Highgate Penitentiary for fallen girls and women. Besides supervising them and teaching Bible Studies, another of her responsibilities was to review letters the inmates wrote to family and friends before they were sent out, mainly to make sure they weren’t corresponding with anyone or in any way that had contributed to their fall in the past and might jeopardize their improvement for the future.
For the last few years, she had regularly gone to north London and the St. Mary Magdalene home in a mansion at the top of Highgate Hill. Spacious and airy, run by strict rules but kind intentions, kept meticulously clean by volunteers and residents, it could have been a most pleasant place. At times it was, its girls and young women encouraged to embrace decency in their leisure as well as training and work. *
Their letters were mainly to mothers, sisters, aunties, and cousins, now and then to brothers and fathers, some who undoubtedly cared for their sisters and daughters, others who needed convincing, which irritated Christina. She suspected they were culpable for the very transgressions they hesitated to forgive. *
She sat by one of the open windows, the scents and sounds of May just beyond, no time like Spring when life’s alive in everything, a good time to be married, if ever there was for Gabriel and Lizzie. A ten-year engagement had hardly made a difference to him, while Lizzie’s heart and health had suffered for it. The twelfth of May, Gabriel’s birthday, was supposed to be the day he gave into the commitment his illusions longed for and his behavior sabotaged.
Christina only had one letter left to read. After so many with nothing to report, she was not prepared for it to be disturbing and not just because the Warden would have to insist on changes before it could be sent. That morning, May twenty-fourth, eighteen-sixty, just as Christina was leaving home for the Penitentiary, the post delivered news that Miss Siddall had finally become Mrs. Rossetti at Hastings’ St. Clement’s Church, Gabriel and his new wife to travel to Boulogne and Paris and stay in France for the entire summer.
The letter by Helena—not her real name but one she was given at the Reformatory—was brief, obviously in response to news of an approaching marriage. I hope my brother will be happy, but I also hope I never have to meet his wife. I don’t know why I have such a prejudice against her, I just do.
Christina wanted to confidentially speak to Helena, to share something of her own similar situation and feelings. Instead, she complied with the limitations of her position and gave the offending correspondence to Reverend Oliver. *
There is but one May in the year, And sometimes May is wet and cold; There is but one May in the year Before the year grows old. Yet though it be the chilliest May, With least of sun and most of showers, Its wind and dew, its night and day, Bring up the flowers.
Today, December 5th, marks the 191st anniversary of the birth of Christina Rossetti, poet and subject of my upcoming novel, The Dove Upon Her Branch.
In 1853, just before Christina’s 23rd birthday, beloved Nonno, her 89 year old maternal grandfather, Gaetano Polidori, suffered a stroke at his home in London. At the time, Christina was living in Frome, Somerset with her parents, helping her mother run a girls day school and take care of her ailing father. Needless to say, it was not one of her happiest birthdays.
The inscription reads:
Love lights the sun: love through the dark
Lights the moon’s evanescent arc:
Same Love lights up the glow-worms spark …
from What Good Shall my Life Do me?
by Christina Rossetti
Fromefield’s peaking autumnal colors offered some consolation after Maria returned to London. November was dreary but, also, restorative, an adjustment and relief after months of visitors and daytrips. Once a week or every other Christina shopped in town, nature walks few and far between because of damp, chilly weather. As winter approached and came before it officially did, Christina morphed into an interior creature, knowing it was time to hide away and exist on what was stored within. School was winding down for the Christmas holiday, which promised four weeks of aristocratic leisure. Teaching was almost rewarding at times, as she had never expected it would be, the few girls still at the school quite comfortable with each other and their teacher, Mama, relinquishing that role more and more to her youngest.
Christina finally had the opportunity to try out the new paint brushes William had sent along with Maria. Out of regret for complaining that two had split quills, she was determined to make good use of them—so far an inadequate portrait of Mama. Such a forgiving, if not forgetful, creature, William had given her a five-pound note for her birthday. She considered spending a few pounds on replacing worn items in her wardrobe, the remainder saved. When Mama returned, a trip to London might be considered good use of it; if after Boxing Day, at least to celebrate the New Year with her siblings. Another incentive was to show appreciation for Amelia’s gift of a pretty collar and sleeves by wearing them in her friend’s presence.
Christina intended them to complement a frock other than black or gray, her azure-blue conservatively contrasting the crisp white of the butterfly-themed guipure lace.
“I won’t stay until the twenty-fifth. Papa doesn’t want me to go at all, but there are things to be taken care of. Once they are, I’ll be back, and you can be on your way. ” Mama said wearily while they waited on the platform for her train.
“I wish we could all live in London again.”
“We will, dearest,” Mama squeezed Christina’s hand, “before too long.”
How comforting it was to make plans in one’s head; in one’s heart, more foolish. A few days later Amelia’s present had gone from being impatiently draped over Christina’s vanity table mirror to storage in a deep drawer with a few other frivolous accessories.
Who? At first, I didn’t think the question was directed at me. I didn’t want to be seen. If by some unintended wish I was, I didn’t feel inclined to answer, to reveal more than I had already. I didn’t want to be rude, either, the manners Aunt Elizabeth had instilled in me continuing to influence my judgment. It was the staircase I meant to be present for as I moved out of the shadows and onto its wide bottom step, Queen Anne in its demeanor and mine. Would there be the smell of polish and creaking on certain steps, its handrail smooth, cold, and substantial beneath my small hand? It was a miracle that I had found it again, and myself as eager and expectant as when the journey to my independent future packed more illusions—especially of the juvenile variety—than clothes. The staircase had darkened with age but in its afterlife had been restored for a brighter environment. Gone was the eighteenth-century oak paneling of its first home that eclipsed the rare beauty of its burred yew unless a candle was held near. Now surrounded by white-washed walls and ceilings, and light-fixtures with flames that didn’t flicker, the imperfections of the staircase’s wood glowed. Once again it seemed I was alone, or, at least, without anyone realizing my presence pretending to be other than it was. The first time I stepped onto the staircase I was still in awe of Blake Hall’s magnificence and certain I was at the threshold of an exciting time in my young life. In terms of my own actions, maintenance, faculties, and possibilities, I was just beginning. I intended to make the most of an opportunity for refinement and worthiness. It was April 1839. I was taken up a back way to a small but comfortable bedroom to briefly revive with refreshment and rest, leaving little time to tidy my appearance before I emerged less than an hour later. I walked along a paneled and papered hallway to a grander way down to meet new responsibilities, convinced the society below would put my shyness and insecurities at ease and improve and cultivate me. Lifting the mud-splattered hem of my skirt, I wished it clean and my petticoats, too, although I was wearing only one. I saw skimpy slippers on my feet rather than sensible boots. Somewhere, probably the drawing room, a piano was being played and there was singing, the latter much less in tune, but, as a young female child’s voice often was, sweet and pretty. My optimism in being entrusted with the care and education of children was enthused until I heard mockery and crying. A door slammed. A rude boy, no more than six or seven, bounded up past me, while the same stately woman who had met my arrival earlier with nothing more than was necessary to say, stood at the bottom of the stairs expressionless. I could go no further in that disagreeable direction. I hadn’t followed the fate of the staircase to revisit the pomposity, unpleasantness, and worse of the Inghams, or my own wickedness that I wasn’t proud of but seemed necessary at the time. I closed my eyes, counted to ten, opened them, and all that remained was my flight of fancy on those stairs.
My faith had prepared me to settle in heavenly peace where I was reunited with those I loved, one in particular even more agreeable in the hereafter. I was rarely nostalgic for the life I had abandoned too soon, especially once Charlotte and Flossy were with me again. I have to—affectionately—blame Emily, who was still into haunting, for alerting me to the demolition of Blake Hall after what was salvaged of its character and worth had been auctioned off. That was as far as Emily was willing to go with the news, while Charlotte had long ago grown disillusioned with London, so I made a second trip there on my own. Of course, I could do nothing but watch the dealings that started at a Kensington antiques fair, continued miles away in a damp, dusty warehouse, and culminated in the staircase’s sale and a plan to send it to be reassembled even farther away from fitting in. By then, I was curious about the couple who had crossed the Atlantic to flaunt their money and steal a little of the old world to the new. Giving into the temptation to eavesdrop on Allen and Gladys Topping during their return voyage, I meant to limit my spying to their discussions about “the English treasures” purchased for their new house on a “long island”. Instead, my fascination with their engaging if sometimes vulgar speech and mannerisms and Gladys’ spontaneous operatic singing, which made her husband’s eyes shine, became an inexcusable intrusion upon their privacy. No sooner I returned to time without measure than Allen Topping was there. I wanted to ask him about the staircase but decided not to because he didn’t know me. He was greeted by a crowd of condolences for the loss of his wife. I often wondered if William ever felt bereaved over what might have been between us, but I was still too shy to ask him. Heaven, like earth, was full of unfinished love stories. I knew Allen would be all right. Gladys would be, too, for, as my dearest Flossy told me, Allen had left her with a special gift.
“Mr. Wyk, what is it?” Mr. Wyk reminded me of Emily’s Keeper, intimidating until he wagged his tail and nuzzled my hand for a treat he wasn’t supposed to have. I was sure he was a comfort to his mistress who, unlike Emily, had no rules that kept him off her bed or from roaming anywhere in the house. Not that Emily and Keeper were less devoted to each other, their reunion as intensely emotional as mine had been with Flossy. “Mr. Wyk?” The young Doberman Pincher ran up the stairs to the first landing, his snout down on his front paws and his spine rising as he resumed growling. I began to ascend, thinking to put him at ease again, but he backed away whining and turned to Gladys. She had one hand over her mouth while the other lifted a chamber stick that illuminated the fear and curiosity in her eyes. I waited for the question I didn’t want to answer. Who? it came, although it wasn’t spoken. Quickly, once and for all, in a whisper meant to be an impression, I told her. I was surprised she had heard of me, also of my sisters and brother, and had even seen the lovely moors. “Ah, she’s gone.” Gladys stroked Mr. Wyk’s ears and went down the stairs. I moved aside, forgetting I didn’t need to. The faithful dog wanted to follow her but waited for me to gesture him to. “You must be hungry, Mr. Wyk. Will anyone believe we saw her? I wonder if she’ll be back.” I have been, but not so Gladys has actually observed me again. It’s hard to be sure about Mr. Wyk; perhaps he no longer sees anything unusual in my visits. I often make a detour to catch a sunrise over the ocean from one of Quoque’s beaches, before returning to Sanderling where I like to go up and down the staircase, rather like a madwoman, which I would never have done in life, or, hopefully, put in a novel. Sometimes, I offer little noises and other signs that get Gladys’ attention but don’t disturb her too much or give away more than I have already.
Read about the actual events that inspired The Staircase:
I Know That Ghosts Have Wandered The Earth is available on Amazon in paperback and for kindle devices and app: US UK Profits go to the Brontë Parsonage Museum, which like so many cultural institutions is struggling financially during the pandemic.
More than 200 years since their births, the ghosts of the famous Bronte family – Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne – haunt their eager fans through novels, poetry, and the fascinating true story of genius tucked into unlikely spaces. It is all here waiting for you in this collection of spine-tingling Bronte-Inspired Ghost Stories, Local Legends, Paranormal Experiences, and Channelings. As one of our authors, Danette Camponeschi, says in her story Keepers of the Truth, “When shut inside during our own time of horror – while the world sleeps and waits and holds its collective breath – we continue the tradition of storytelling in our own way, keeping the truth alive and the imagination flourishing.” Open the cover of this book and enjoy a moonlit ramble on the moors. You never know what you’ll find…or what will find you…
Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine And Subtle Spirit is available on Amazon in paperback and for kindle devices and app: US UK
This is an exquisitely imagined and written novel about the artist Berthe Morisot, her determined but, also, instinctive approach to art, life and love. This novel is a beautiful, seductive, linguistic dance, subtly expressive like Morisot’s art. I highly recommend it!
The Women In Berthe Morisot’s Life by Paula Butterfield
Berthe Morisot’s mother played an important role in Berthe’s life, encouraging her daughter’s artistic pursuits (most of the time), and holding weekly Tuesday “evenings” to which she invited the artists that Berthe could not socialize with at the popular cafes. But Maman Morisot had no idea how to prepare her daughter to integrate a career as an artist with a traditional woman’s life. In La Luministe, Berthe looks to two other important women in her life to offer paths for her to follow.
Her sister, Edma, was Berthe’s earliest influence. Only one year older than Berthe, Edma seemed to effortlessly stay clean, follow the rules, and—quite literally—color inside the lines. When the two sisters had studied drawing and painting long enough to begin copying at the Louvre, it was Edma who was thought to be the better artist because she copied so precisely, while Berthe left out details if she felt they were unimportant.
The sisters were on parallel paths to success. They both had work accepted at the Salon, the influential annual art exhibition put on by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Then Edma turned thirty. The vow the sisters had made as girls, to pursue lives as artists, didn’t protect Edma from societal pressure to marry. What was worse, in Berthe’s view, was that Edma married a naval officer whose career required the couple to move from one location to another, each far from Paris. The sisters promised that they would visit often, and that they would keep painting. But running a household and taking care of a growing family precluded time for paintings, and Edma eventually gave up art altogether.
Edma’s path struck fear into Berthe’s heart. She couldn’t imagine living without her artistic outlet. But at the same time, she longed for a happy family like the one Edma created. There was much to envy about her sister’s new life. Berthe painted idyllic scenes of Edma and her little daughter playing hide-and-seek or chasing butterflies.
The other woman close to Berthe was the Duchess of Colonna, whom Berthe met when her family spent a summer amongst other artists in the Barbizon Forest. She idolized the Duchess, a sculptor who, as the young widow of an aristocrat, had status and money that afforded her the freedom to live as an artist. She even signed her work as “Marcello”, hoping that a man’s name would protect her identity. The Duchess won prizes at the Salon and commissions from titled patrons.
But even her beauty and unmarried status could not protect the Duchess. She had many admirers—from the artist Eugene Delacroix to Emperor Louis Napoleon—too many, society determined. As she reached middle age, her independence was no longer deemed acceptable.
Berthe, too, was financially comfortable and a beauty; how could she avoid the judgment that the Duchess endured?
Berthe faced a choice: to live as a single woman, and eventually an old maid, free to devote her entire life to her art. Or to enjoy a family of her own, and the approval of the Parisian haute-bourgeoise. When Edma married, Berthe complained to Edouard Manet that she had lost her companion and competitor. He challenged Berthe to tell him about one woman who had combined work and family, but she couldn’t think of any. In the end, Berthe Morisot became that woman. She had to create her own role, one as radical as her painting.
The Impressionists were concerned with depicting modern life. Combining work and love, art and family—THAT was Berthe’s modern life.
Author Paula Butterfield taught courses about women artists for twenty years before turning to writing about them. La Luministe, her debut novel, earned the Best Historical Fiction Chanticleer Award. Paula lives with her husband and daughter in Portland and on the Oregon coast.
Today I am pleased to host Deborah Bennison regarding the latest publication from her independent press. This volume was truly a labor of love, exhibiting the excellence of content and presentation always representative of Bennison Books.
Readers of Diane’s blog may already be familiar with the New England poet Cynthia Jobin, whose blog attracted many followers worldwide. Admirers of her work will be delighted to learn that a collection of her poetry, Song of Paper, has just been published by Bennison Books.
With a fine intelligence and shining poetic sensibility, Cynthia documents the joys and griefs that mark the common humanity of our everyday lives. She explores the inexplicable exhilaration and longing that love brings and courageously delineates the crushing desolation she felt at losing her lifelong partner.
The magnificent sequence of poems which close the collection trace the journey towards her own impending death and the deeply moving acceptance with which she finally faced it.
Excerpt from the introduction
Shortly before her death in late 2016, Cynthia entrusted her poetic legacy to the UK poet John Looker who had long admired her work. The following is an excerpt from John’s introduction to Song of Paper:
Cynthia Jobin’s poetry is skillfully crafted and both erudite and accessible. She wrote about the mysteries of life, her grief following the death of her partner of 43 years, love and friendship, the joy of pets and the landscape of New England. She also translated French poetry. There was a depth of feeling and an unobtrusive intellect at work, but equally a lightness of touch and humour. The poems in this collection show that variety of theme and equally her range of tone; she would write just for fun as well as with serious intent.
When reading a new poem from Cynthia Jobin I have always had that comfortable feeling of being in good hands: we know that the verses are going to be impeccably crafted but we can’t predict what path they will take.
I am sure that new readers and old friends alike will discover this for themselves on reading this collection. The title, Song of Paper, comes from the opening poem and feels so apposite. The closing poem, which was also the last she ever posted in life, and which shows humour even in the midst of wisdom and courage, is an immensely moving reflection from someone who knew herself to be very close to death.
The late Cynthia Jobin
Below are extracts from two poems included in this collection
and the full version of ‘To a Tulip’.
In my budding effort to open my blog to host others, today I am featuring Martin Shone, intuitive writer of poetry and prose, profound observationalist and thinker.
Martin lives in the UK and has three grown-up children and a four-year-old granddaughter. By day he works as a school cleaner where his mop and bucket are his tools, but in the evening he swaps those for his keyboard. He’s had various other jobs including Postman, Egg Packer, Security Guard, Soldier, Painter & Decorator, Retail Assistant, and General Dog’s Body, amongst other things. Fun fact: Considering he doesn’t own a TV or listen to the radio very often, he once applied to have a go at reading his poetry on the TV show Britain’s Got Talent. He didn’t get very far though, not even passing the first stage; nerves got the better of him and he fluffed his lines.
I’ve been following Martin’s blog, taken pleasure, been reassured and inspired by his poetry and reflections for many years. I keep his first two collections close by and often pick them up to randomly open and be guided by as I might my Little Zen Companion.
I expected Martin’s latest collection to be companionably soothing, sensory, and enlightening. And so it was, inhaling and exhaling poetry in caressing arrangements of words, light as a feather while defying gravity, rising out of Martin’s intuitive observations and perceptive reflections, as well as his experience, imagination, and belief that, as I wrote in my review of Silence Happens, “beauty, peace and love are always available”.
Just a few pages into After the Rain, I had to stop and take a deep breath before reading further—for the best of reasons. I realized I was witnessing a favorite poet’s maturing, strengthening, and deepening. He was still offering the music of his soul for me to “sing along”, but, also, a new complexity of rhythms, sounds and understanding. Without losing any of his writing’s freshness and delicacy, his lyrical musings had become more inspired and inspiring, confident and courageous, distinct and layered.
Martin’s poetry often reminds me of that of the Victorian poetess Christina Rossetti, because of its inclination to let nature—weather, birds, insects, flowers, trees—direct its metaphors and meaning. There are so many poems in this collection that stood out as favorites for me, but the one I return to more than any other is As Bluebells Distract My Mind (Page 57), too long to quote in full here, so I offer its last two lines:
How can I write anything to compare with this magic therefore I regard the distractions around me and put down my pen.
After the Rain offers a sublime invitation to live and breathe through all the senses, contemplation, conscience, the heart’s joys and sorrows, spiritual reflection, and, especially, magical distraction, which is, after all, the poet’s best muse and his audience’s best reason for attending to what he creates. Read my full review of After the Rain on Goodreads or on Amazon.
I’m thrilled that Martin took me up on participating in a little interview!
DMD: Why/when did you begin writing poetry? Was there something that made you feel you needed to express yourself in this way?
MS: I wish to start by saying thank you to Diane, for your continued support of my work over the years, for your help with getting my first book Silence Happens off the ground, and for choosing to interview me. It is an honour.
DMD: You’re so welcome! It’s my pleasure.
MS: I always have a poetry book on the go and nearly always fail to understand what it is I’m reading, although some poems hit the spot, hit that thing inside which then opens and breathes. Mostly, poetry for me is a thing I do not understand, something I can’t get to grips with when reading it. I don’t remember any from my school days or even if I was taught poetry, but school was a bit of a blank. August 2011 was when I began writing poetry in earnest, with maybe a few here and there beforehand. I created my WordPress blog and out it came, pouring from me and most of it, to be honest, was not worth the digital ink it was written with. Slowly I began to see changes and the poetry began to attract more followers ’till at some point the poems became more than the poetry I’d written. Something changed inside me and these poems needed to come out as if it wasn’t me expressing myself but the poetry.
DMD: What has been the greatest influence on and/inspiration for your poetry? How would you describe your poetic voice?
MS: Inspiration comes when the mind is empty of requests for inspiration. Having said that I know nature inspires me, humanity inspires me, death, silence, candle flame, and any number of things, ordinary daily things, conversations, off the cuff comments, life, spirituality and our ongoing quests to find answers to things already here within us. Sometimes I get asked to write a poem there and then, but I say it doesn’t work like that, not for me anyhow, and, yet, on the odd occasion I can. Generally, the poems turn up at my door needing to be watered. I don’t have a single main thing which inspires me to write and, as for an influence, I’m not really sure unless it’s those demons inside. As for my poetic voice? It took me a long time to accept what others were telling me. I was asking myself: how can I be a poet when I don’t particularly like poetry and my grasp of English grammar and punctuation is, to say the least, pretty bad? I refused to accept it. I wrote poems about how I wasn’t a poet—how could I be when I wasn’t the one “writing” them? It was difficult to understand and, at one point, I stopped and closed the site, but with encouragement I started again and out they came: ants from a nest. I don’t know what my poetic voice is and, besides, I don’t think it’s up to me to say or think about.
DMD: In my review of After the Rain I state that, because of its romantic melancholy and its inclination to let nature direct its metaphors and meaning, your poetry reminds me of that of the Victorian poetess Christina Rossetti. It is said that Christina didn’t do a lot of revision to her poetry. Do you do much with yours?
MS: I forget, that’s my problem, I forget. I have a form of Aphantasia, which means my mind’s eye doesn’t see, or in my case doesn’t quite see. I have, what I called in some of my poems, before I knew or even heard of Aphantasia, my darkness, because I can’t see, in my mind, the words I type. I can’t visualize the scenes, the poetry, any colours or voices etc., but occasionally I “see” shadows or glimpses of silvery images and less occasionally a video busts upon me so colourful and violent it makes me shudder. When I’m writing I don’t have the poem just a vagueness of something, sometimes it sits in my stomach—a feeling, a warmth—and so I write and when the poem is finished I have forgotten how it started, so I have to go back and read it. Sometimes I’m shocked at how the ending seems to fit with the theme or the balance of the poem. They still need a bit of editing and revising, and my thesaurus and OED are always at hand. They don’t always appear like this, sometimes I have to stop because the meaning is there but I don’t have the word in me (as I say, school was a blank). And, you know, a poem is never finished; there’s always something in it which needs a change.
DMD: How do you find/make time for writing? Can you write anywhere or do you need a certain space and quietude to do it?
MS: In the weekdays, I write in the evenings if I’m not too tired from work, but falling asleep, reading, or a lack of motivation sometimes gets in the way. I guess I can write anywhere within reason. My laptop is the main place and on the village green at the weekends with my notebook is a favourite, with a coffee, but I’ve written on trains and planes, too. On the whole, I write in silence but sometimes I need a distraction, something loud. I remember writing a spiritual poem a few years ago while listening to a quite loud thrashing piece of heavy metal type stuff—I guess I needed to blank everything else out.
DMD: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
MS: I’m happy when I’m in the flow; I can’t say I’m energized by it, just happy. Occasionally, when something comes to me, I could be writing it and the world is not here; nothing is here but the poem and when it’s finished doing its thing it feels like I’ve been unplugged from whatever or whoever is controlling the poem and I’m exhausted. I need water and silence.
DMD: Do you write anything other than poetry? What writing projects, poetry, and otherwise, are you working on now.
MS: Apart from poetry and the second collection which I’m working on now, I write short stories, not many though. I’ve written a short Young Adult novel of 30,000 words about bullying in school and how the two main characters go about their days with chess as their friend. One is the bully and a genius level chess player, the other is the bullied and thoroughly loves chess. The school tournament is where they find themselves. I have a couple of starts of other novels, one is a fantasy story where I’ve written about 3,000 words and has not been touched for a few years. Amongst other things, it involves an otter who finds an egg and this is no ordinary egg for what comes out of it will change the world. The other novel or maybe novella is a kind of elemental spiritual love story and I have no idea where the words came from; they appeared while watching a spider as I was drinking coffee outside my local café. They came as 12 separate paragraphs, which I originally assumed were going to be the beginnings of 12 chapters but they have since sort of melded into one thing. I think I’ve written about 6,000 words of this and again not touched it for over a year or so and I seem to have lost the thread. I am an idle writer; the times I look at the pile of poems for my next book and turn away!
DMD: What, besides writing, do you do that taps into your creativity and helps you to relax and enjoy yourself?
MS: I’ve dabbled with painting but that came upon me in a burst too, just like the poetry; then it went away and I can’t seem to find it again. I enjoy walking through nature, along the towpaths, forest tracks etc. Photography is another thing that takes me away from stuff and reading too, I always have a couple of books on the go. I enjoy silence, chess, and, I reckon. I’m a bit of a solitary creature by habit. Maybe I should be a monk! I have a nice collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with books by and about him and his creations, which pleases me. I’ve been collecting him for over 30 years now. I must say though, I don’t think I’m all that creative especially with the poetry. I just write the things and I like the things I write.
Thanks so much to Martin
for such an open and honest and fascinating interview.
And I beg to differ: he certainly is “all that creative”!
I encourage you to treat yourself to all of Martin’s publications.
And they make beautiful, heartwarming, soul enriching gifts!
The sea lies behind the poet and a range of hills ahead. She is walking “all carelessly” along a sunny lane. She laughs and talks with “those around” – presumably her pupils – and does not feel as harassed as usual. The sudden sight of a blue harebell on the bank by the road recalls her own childhood. She had then been dwelling ‘with kindred hearts’ and did not have to spend her life looking after others, as she now had to.
The Blue Bell by Anne Brontë
A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.
Yet I recall not long ago
A bright and sunny day,
‘Twas when I led a toilsome life
So many leagues away;
That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.
Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.
Less harassed than at other times
I saw the scene was fair,
And spoke and laughed to those around,
As if I knew no care.
But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.
Whence came that rising in my throat,
That dimness in my eye?
Why did those burning drops distil —
Those bitter feelings rise?
O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood’s hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,
Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.
I had not then mid heartless crowds
To spend a thankless life
In seeking after others’ weal
With anxious toil and strife.
‘Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!’
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.
In 2012, I also reflected poetically on the delight and memories that the “lovely floweret” brought to me.
Copyright 2012 by DM Denton
Clearing for Bluebells by DM Denton
I am long gone
from that small coppice
where one man’s purpose
was all I had.
His saw, his scythe
cut through the clutter
to shed some light where
the ground was soft.
Fires were set
to burn away brash
and warm us at last
on such cold days.
We’d stop for lunch
and speak of nothing
except the birdsong
He loved my hair
and constant silence
and woman’s promise
to stay for hope.
My hands, my heart
wanted to be his
working with nature’s
way of growing.
Clearing the way
for sunshine and rain
growing love not blame
from what was past.
in sight and fragrance
I have come back since
just as he thought
In folklore, some believed that wearing a wreath of bluebell flowers made you tell the truth. Anne Brontë, would have approved, having written:
“I wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it.” ~ The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
This is the most beautiful novel about Anne Brontë and her sisters that I’ve read in a very long time. Read entire review by Kimberly Eve, Victorian Musings
I first heard about Hildegard of Bingen (c.1098-1178) in a history of music class in college. Her chants are sublime and, as I fell in love with them, I started to read more about their composer – the first woman in the Western world to do so.
It turns out Hildegard did much more than that – she was a pioneer in many fields thus far reserved as a man’s domain. One such field was medicine. She was a skilled herbalist who applied treatments in a way most medieval physicians did not, namely by observing the outcomes of the cures rather than relying on ancient texts for guidance, irrespective of whether they worked or not.
As I researched Hildegard’s life, two things began to puzzle me in the (admittedly sparse) historical accounts. One is that she was enclosed at a young age (possibly as young as eight or ten) at a very strict women’s convent, where the residents lived in enforced poverty and isolation from the world. In such a place, historians tell us, she lived for the next three decades.
This, to me, is hard to believe. The psychological and intellectual toll such privations would exact on a child would be extremely damaging. Yet Hildegard re-emerges in contemporary chronicles, around the age of forty, as an accomplished physician, writer, and composer, and a diligent student of nature. She is already well-known in the Rhineland, and her theological writings are about to catch the attention of Pope Eugenius III. She is also preparing to leave the abbey of St. Disibod, where she had been enclosed, and start her own foundation.
Sculpture of Hildegard of Bingen by Karlheinz Oswald, 1998, in front of Eibingen Abbey near Rüdesheim in Hesse, Germany
Clearly, something happened during those decades that allowed her curiosity to be fostered, her intellect to develop, and her creativity to flourish. There is no reliable record of her early life beyond the few basic facts of her provenance and enclosure, and that is what inspired me to imagine what that life may have been like.
The Greenest Branch is a fictionalized account of the early life of Hildegard of Bingen, but it is rooted in what we know about her and the world she inhabited. It is a world, needless to say, that is not conducive to female empowerment. That she managed to accomplish so much is a testament to her fierce intelligence, strength, and determination.
The second book in the series, titled The Column of Burning Spices, traces the second half of Hildegard’s long and eventful life. It will be released in early 2019.
The Greenest Branch is available on pre-order on Amazon US and Amazon UK and will be released on June 18, 2018.
P.K. Adams is a Boston-based historical fiction author, whose debut novel The Greenest Branch is the first in a two-book series based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia and a master’s degree in European Studies from Yale. When not reading or writing, she can be found hiking, doing yoga, and drinking tea (though usually not at the same time).
Please check out her website: p.k.adams that includes history, writing and guest blogs, and more information about her and The Greenest Branch.
Thank you to Patrycja for this fascinating look into Hildegard of Bingen and for bringing this extraordinary woman to life in The Greenest Branch. I have pre-ordered my copy and I hope you will do the same!
I also thank her for hosting me on her blog to promote my latest publications.
Please note: I would like to open my blog to more guest posts (at least one per month) by but not limited to authors of quality historical and literary fiction, as well as poetry anthologies. Perhaps you are an avid reader who has a blog, does reviews, or has thoughts on literary or historical persons, periods, or events. Not necessary, but I would appreciate if I could do a guest post on your blog in exchange. I reserve the right to refuse anything I deem not in keeping with the intent, spirit, ethics, and quality of this blog and my own work.
If you are interested in guest posting, please contact me.