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Notes from a Western Life at WindbreakHouse.WordPress.com
You can continue to read the blogs here, however a few of the very long blogs under the category of "Writing: Where I've Been" will only appear on the WordPress blog.
An Index of Blog Topics
may be found lower down in this left-hand column so, for example, you can search for all blogs with "Writing Suggestions."
A dated archive of blogs is also available below the index.
Click here to jump to the index
, or scroll down to see a selection of photos related to the blog posts.
Blacksmith or Wordsmith
Iron legs from yesteryear.
Smaller iron items inside.
The scrap-iron table.
Dust, Grass, and Writing
Like the native grasses, the roots of writing go deep and reach out in many directions.
Tough prairie grass roots splitting open a rock.
Green life may be found under dry debris.
Fringed Jacket Foofaraw
Turtle carved from bone.
Turtle made of silver.
Warrior Woman pin.
George's grizzly bear claw earring.
Powwow jingle cones made of tin.
A tiny dream catcher.
Harley Owners' Group pin in honor of Jerry.
Wally McRae's cufflink and tooth.
South Dakota Poet Laureate? Not Right Now, Thanks.
"An older writer, conscious of his or her limited life span, may have specific projects in mind to complete. Thus, requiring that the Poet Laureate travel and teach extensively may exclude older writers regardless of their worthiness to hold the position."
Don't just click "like" about some political story you read.
Pick up the phone or write a letter and make a difference.
Ah! The Bathtub.
A brass hook on a nearby wall to hold my robe or a towel.
A removable wire basket stretches across the tub to hold my soap and sponges.
Now on Facebook.
If you Like me on this Facebook page you'll get notifications of my newly-posted blogs as well as announcements about my books, writing retreats, and other events to do with Windbreak House.
No kitten videos, but I post Tuesday Writing Tips, Wednesday Word Posts, and various other writing-related stories, announcements, book reviews, photos and the occasional joke.
More Stories and Essays by Linda
may be found on this website.
* Home Page Message archives
Many of these essays have writing advice. All have photos, some have recipes, a few have poems.
* Poetry Page essays
Read suggestions for writing and performing poetry and the stories behind some of Linda's poems.
* Critter Stories
Brief stories and photos of birds and wildlife seen on Linda's ranch may be found on this page.
* Gallimaufry Page
Stories and photos that don't fit anywhere else.
Linda on YouTube
Nancy Curtis, publisher and owner of High Plains Press, recorded a couple of videos of Linda reading her poetry and posted them on YouTube.
To see Linda read "Where the Stories Come From"
To see Linda read her poem "Make a Hand"
Or go to www.YouTube.com
and search for Linda Hasselstrom.
You may also want to visit the High Plains Press facebook page
where you will find these two poetry videos and much more about the many great western books-- poetry and non-fiction-- published by High Plains Press.
# # #
click here to send an e-mail message to Linda.
If this link does not work-- some web-browsers are incompatible or perhaps your computer is blocking pop-ups-- copy and paste this email address into your email system:
or send Linda a letter:
Linda M. Hasselstrom
PO Box 169
Hermosa SD 57744
October 31, 2014
. . .
I’m always reading about private lives. Since I conduct writing retreats, much of what I read when working with prospective writers is about their struggles to live satisfyingly and with meaning. I've never become cynical about these writings because every one of us is doing the same thing: trying to figure out how to get the most from our time on earth. We can learn from one another.
Mary Beth Baptiste’s Altitude Adjustment
has joined my shelf of books I will recommend to writers who are trying to figure out just how to write about that divorce, that disastrous love affair, or that terrible loss. With courage, and a discerning eye, she has looked at her own past, at the way she left a bad marriage in suburban Massachusetts to become a woodswoman in the Rocky Mountains.
Have you got a difficult story to tell? Read this book for clues on how to do it.
How do you handle the reactions of relatives to your decisions? Mary Beth’s parents weren't happy about her divorce or her plan to move west. Sounding a lot like my mother, hers said, “No man would ever want you again.”
How do you handle swatches of your life that you don’t want to write about, because they were unsatisfactory or boring or nobody’s business? She tells us enough about the marriage she left to be convincing, but doesn't hammer at the subject, understanding readers don’t need every detail in order for us to understand. In a sentence or paragraph, she summarizes several events that aren't part of the quest of the subtitle.
What about love and sex? Mary Beth handles scenes of intimacy with relish but with restraint; your mother won’t be embarrassed to be caught reading this book.
Readers always ask writers of nonfiction, “Is this true? Did this really happen?” We've all become a little cynical after learning that writers we trusted made the whole thing up. Mary Beth has written an author’s note that clarifies the way she has handled the truth so well that I must quote the whole thing:
“I sincerely hope that those who recognize themselves in these pages will understand that I wrote this story from a place of love and gratitude for all of you who crossed paths with me during this magical time of my life. The events in the narrative did occur. Whether others will recall them as I have is debatable. To protect privacy, I changed some names, genders, physical identifiers, draft numbers and birthdates, radio call numbers, and other finger-pointing characteristics, and I created a character to take the heat. Some local place names have been changed.
A chronology of events does not a memoir make. To create narrative flow, I reconstructed dialogue, scrambled chronology, and compressed time. To keep the book to a manageable length, some people and events had to be left out.”
Besides all this, she writes with skill about her new home and the people in it; her prose is lyrical and strong. “Snow sheets over the ground and feathers up the mountainsides, lending a paradoxical softness to the landscape.”
Writing about your life? Mary Beth shows how to do it honestly and with grace. Mary Beth writes, ”The mountains called, and I came. I found my way home. . . . I finally feel the power of my life, and it matters. . . . I don’t pretend to understand it all, but this I know: Dreams won’t die, no matter how hard we try to slay them.”
She's not only provided a lesson in writing about your life, but the book will give you goose bumps too.
# # #
For more information:
Altitude Adjustment: A Quest for Love, Home, and Meaning in the Tetons,
by Mary Beth Baptiste
Helena, MT: TwoDot, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press.
ISBN 978-0-9134-7. Paperback. 272 pp.
Visit the author’s website at: marybethbaptiste.com
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November 26, 2013
See my review of this book below.
. . .
Recently I reviewed the book A Wilder Rose
by Susan Wittig Albert. Though I did not receive any compensation beyond a free copy of the book, I do have a passing relationship with the author.
I first heard of Susan Wittig Albert when I read a mystery or two in her China Bayles herbal series, books so good I sometimes reread them. Each mystery has a signature herb connected to a major theme. They are good mysteries with settings that draw the reader into the countryside, written with considerable humor and filled with intriguing, unusual characters. Each one is packed with fascinating information about growing and using herbs-- even though the author is careful to say that a reader should not rely solely on the books for herbal information.
I have just discovered that the books' website --www.abouthyme.com
-- provides tons more information on teas, on ways to celebrate with teas and herbs, including recipes-- a wealth of material.
Later I discovered the Robin Paige Victorian/Edwardian mysteries Susan co-wrote with her husband Bill Albert, and devoured every one. They are filled with information about the era, but they don't overwhelm the reader with historical details to the detriment of the mystery. Sadly for readers, the books took so much research that the co-writers suspended the series. Still, the books already written form a mother lode of good reading; www.mysterypartners.com
I particularly enjoyed her memoir about marriage and place, Together, Alone
; she has also edited several collections of writing.
At some point, I wrote Susan a fan letter about her mysteries; she responded with the news that she had read and found inspiration in my books.
Since then we've exchanged comments every now and again; she's reviewed my books and books I've edited on the wonderful Story Circle Network website she founded (www.storycircle.org
). She is a prolific and excellent writer, generous with other writers. We've had brief conversations via email about writing which demonstrate to me that we share many opinions about the jobs we have created for ourselves.
I'm looking forward to meeting her at last when I am a speaker at the annual Story Circle Network conference in Austin, TX, next April.
# # #
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November 25, 2013
. . .
If you loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books about her pioneer childhood, you should read A Wilder Rose
by Susan Wittig Albert.
If you are reluctant to believe that Laura’s daughter Rose may have written the books, you must read this novel.
When I was rescued from my existence as the daughter of a divorcee because my mother had married a rancher in western South Dakota, Laura Ingalls Wilder became my guide, my sister and my best friend. I was nine years old when we moved to the ranch and I entered the small-town grade school, a society of rural kids who had known each other since birth and didn't care for "city kids." My happiest moments began when the teacher who wrangled five grades in the "lower room" read to us from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books about her "Little House on the Prairie."
Suddenly I could imagine myself living happily ever after among the neighborhood ranching and farming families. My parents made my childhood as educational as possible by buying a cow for me to milk and filling the chicken house with egg-laying hens. At home as at school, we spoke of Laura's family as if they were neighbors, as indeed they had been on the Dakota prairie a couple of hundred miles east of our home.
With my degree in American Literature, I was teaching and writing professionally before I met scholars of prairie literature who raised doubts that Laura had written her books alone. Some said that Laura's daughter Rose, a best-selling author in the 1920s and 30s, was deeply involved with creation of the books. Various scholars examined the abundant evidence-- Laura's other writings, Rose's writings, their letters to each other-- and concluded that Rose had edited Laura's work extensively, had rewritten it, or perhaps had written it in the first place.
These opinions met considerable resistance. Neither editors nor readers wanted to believe anything that alters our nostalgic image of the housewife seated at her well-scrubbed kitchen table writing masterpieces with pencil in a yellow tablet after gathering eggs and before starting supper on the wood stove.
A Wilder Rose
features Rose Wilder Lane telling her story to a writer friend, Norma Lee Browning, allowing Rose to speak for herself. Rose's words are drawn directly from her letters and diaries. Each element of the novel is founded upon the historical record, including the writings of Laura, Rose, and various writers and editors who shared their lives.
Rose was a successful journalist, magazine writer and world traveler, author of Henry Ford's Own Story
(1917), Diverging Roads
(1919), The Making of Herbert Hoover
(1920), and The Peaks of Shala
(1923) among other books. In 1928, at her mother's request, she moved from Albania to her parents' Missouri farm to help the aging couple. She built them a new home and turned the old farm house into a writers' retreat, often filled with friends from all over the world. Rose's magazine writing paid the bills for both households-- until the stock market crash of 1929. Suddenly writers could hardly find sales in the formerly lucrative magazine market and both Rose and her parents were nearly destitute.
Then Laura wrote an autobiography she called "Pioneer Girl," more than 300 tablet pages she intended as a book for adult readers. Naturally, she brought the manuscript to her daughter, assuming Rose's professional connections would ease publication.
Rose was an experienced and well-paid ghost-writer for, among others, Lowell Thomas, a world traveler and broadcaster. Had she known she was going to ghost-write eight novels for her mother, she might have created her usual contract to do so.
Instead, she spent several months creating a coherent story from her mother's manuscript. Editing and revising, she drew more memories from her mother, but Albert indicates that, so far as is shown by the available documents, Laura never saw the first five chapters of the book. When the editor asked for 25,000 additional words, Rose rewrote the entire book, drawing on Laura's written vignettes to create additional scenes. Little House in the Big Woods
was published in 1932, bearing the name of Laura as author. Meanwhile, Rose wrote Let the Hurricane Roar
, a novel also based on her family history, published in 1933. She continued to write and publish her own work throughout the time she worked with her mother's writing. From Laura's initial outpouring came the material from which Rose produced subsequent books.
The character Rose, speaking to her friend Norma, considers how this deception evolved. "Would I have felt differently if I had known that this book was only the first of an eight-book series? Would I have asked for recognition and a share of the royalties if I had known that each book would take two or three months away from my writing projects and sap whatever meager store of energy I might have for my own work? Perhaps."
Because the author draws on Rose's own words throughout the novel, the conclusion is inescapable.
Susan Wittig Albert's introductory note to A Wilder Rose
clarifies her position on the writing relationship between Laura and Rose:
"I have treated the real people as fictional characters and the real events as fictional events. I have chosen some storylines to expand and dramatize and omitted others. I have put words into people's mouths and listened in on their internal dialogue. I have invented incidents and imagined settings. In all this, I am exactly as true to the real events, settings, and people of A Wilder Rose as Rose and Laura were to the real events, settings, and people of the Ingalls family's pioneer wanderings across the American plains. The books they wrote are fictional representations of Laura's life as a child growing into young womanhood."
Therefore, the novel's central question becomes: how will each reader react to realizing that our concept of Laura writing her novels alone is impossible? How will readers who have loved Laura's stories accept that these two admirable women told lies of commission as well as omission? What justification might exist for the fiction they maintained all their lives?
Albert's novel is so moving and so convincing in part because her development of the characters of Laura and Rose echoes details true to the character of the prairie people where I grew up and where I live today.
Our relationships with our parents are complex and convoluted. Rose was burdened because, she wrote, she had burned the house down. Her story was that while her mother was ill after the birth and death of Rose’s baby brother, Rose stuffed too much hay into the wood stove and caused a destructive fire. If the story was true, Rose, little more than a baby herself, was already doing the hard work necessary for a prairie life. She knew that actions have consequences and we have to live with them.
I can identify with Rose's guilt. Growing up on the prairie with parents much like hers, I learned the same lessons early. Even accidents have repercussions and a responsible person acknowledges them and accepts blame if necessary. Guilt is a burden that moves many of us in many directions today, and Rose thrived on it through much of her life. Could she have assumed responsibility for that fire to avert blame from her mother? We will probably never know, but the idea is not impossible.
Rose wonders if her mother thought "that affection somehow 'spoiled' a child. That life was real, life was earnest, and too much coddling insulated us from that essential truth, which would shortly be visited upon us by cruel experience." Similarly, my father often quoted the "life is real" saying while my mother frequently assured me that it was her job to make sure I was not spoiled so I’d be ready for the horrors of real life.
Laura deplored fiction, including the best-selling novels her daughter wrote, but she insisted that her own writing was the truth. Even though I have always written nonfiction, my mother, until she died at 92, never stopped urging me to "get a real job."
As Rose ponders her mother's disregard for the life of a professional writer, she wonders, "Do any of us ever outgrow those old childhood hurts, or do they grow and fester in our spirits the whole length of our lives?"
The question might apply to any of us; as Albert has remarked, "the family censor sits on our shoulders, editing our pasts." I could believe that Rose was so anxious to create a better relationship with her mother that the deception became immaterial. When I found myself publishing a book that contained truths I knew my mother could not accept, I presented her with her own special manuscript copy-- from which I had removed anything that would disturb her rosy view of our lives. She loved showing her personal copy to nursing home visitors. "My daughter wrote this," she would say.
Perhaps as Rose took the written drafts and rewrote them, her mother became immersed in planning the next book. When Rose brought or sent Laura the finished drafts, she might simply have mailed them. Perhaps she convinced herself that the published version was what she had written. Even when my co-editors and I heavily edited manuscripts for our three anthologies of autobiographical writing by Western women (Leaning into the Wind, Woven on the Wind
and Crazy Woman Creek
), novice writers often told us how pleased they were that we had not changed their words!
And what about some of the editors who had seen Laura's writing before Rose worked it over? Did they suspect the truth? Perhaps they ignored their suspicious, afraid to lose such popular books.
Still, the Rose of the novel believes that her mother is deeply uneasy. "That was her mother’s way; the more troubled she was about something, the less likely she was to say anything about it to anyone." Precisely so do the people in my Dakota neighborhood behave today: the more unpleasant the topic, the less likely they are to talk about it. Rose and Laura never discussed their collaboration in public. Likely they never discussed it in private.
I've met many writers like Laura, people who enjoy writing as a pastime but cannot take it seriously as a profession. Laura says to her daughter in A Wilder Rose
"The more I see of the hours you have to put in, the better satisfied I am to raise chickens. . . . I could never let myself be driven the way you are, Rose." Albert says the statement is almost a direct quote from a letter Laura wrote to her husband Almanzo from San Francisco in 1915, when she was visiting Rose.
Casual writers are not driven, but real writers must write and they may not be patient with anyone less serious about writing. Wanting to help her mother make an income as Almanzo aged and the farm income dwindled, Rose could have done the familiar work of editing and rewriting as a labor of love or duty without considering the job any different than dozens of others. However, in working for her mother, she didn't get the payment she so desperately needed.
What would you have done? Or perhaps more directly-- since I am a writer whose mother wrote journals and poetry when she was young-- what would I have done if my mother had brought me a manuscript to edit for publication?
I would have been flattered; I'd have worked hard to make it publishable. And because she was my mother, I would never have asked credit or payment, assuming that she would treat me fairly.
Albert presents another justification for Rose's work with her mother's memories, one I find particularly attractive. Rose's childhood was lonely and poverty-stricken. Writing her mother’s pioneer childhood as beautiful, abundant and generous might have been a way for Rose to do several things at once. Perhaps she wanted to imagine her parents' lives as more satisfying; perhaps she wanted to erase her mother's hardships by writing stories that made it brighter. The novels invent for Rose a mother who loved her as well as provided generously for her well-being. Did she create a happier childhood for herself, as well as for her mother? Did she enjoy creating a marriage partnership unlike her unsatisfactory union?
Every writing is a new challenge, one of the factors that keeps us working at the profession. Rose thinks that "from the day she’d begun professional writing-- almost thirty years now-- she had always felt that way. Whatever else she was writing-- it just wasn't good enough. It didn't meet her expectations of what it should have, could have been." Moreover, she felt each piece of writing completed was her last, that she’d never be able to find another worthy idea. I know no serious writer, including me, who hasn't wondered the same.
Moreover, many successful writers have had a fallback profession like teaching or selling insurance. Rose was writing furiously in the deepest darkness of the Depression of the 1930s, trying to survive on almost nothing while she helped her aging parents make enough money to live on. She had no insurance against failure, no spouse to support her. So she wrote constantly for money-- magazine articles, novels, nonfiction works-- anything to create an income.
Albert's scholarship has convinced me; the novel's structure allows the reader to understand and empathize with the way Rose was drawn into a collaboration that became a deception. Despite Rose's fame, she never received credit or financial benefit for the books. Laura got the pride of authorship; Laura got the royalties.
More importantly, Rose convinced me.
I don't care who wrote the books. Laura's voice, as Rose interpreted or created it, is still that of my guide and friend. Perhaps Laura's daughter made the storyteller a better person, helping her say what she could not express herself.
I was also delighted to learn what a very good writer Rose Wilder Lane was; she has much to say to our current political situation. Since her own writings were so much different than those of her mother, she proved her writing skill by creating the voice of the kindly storyteller for her mother's stories. Few writers are so skilled. Her benevolence created books loved by millions.
Interviewer Lynn Goodwin asked Susan Wittig Albert what advice Rose and Laura might give to aspiring writers. The differences, as Albert sees them, are intriguing.
Rose, says Albert, might say "“Write, write write . . . . And be sure to keep a day-to-day diary of your various writing projects . . . to satisfy the curiosity of the researchers who may come along and want to know what you were doing on a particular day." Such a diary became part of the background for this book.
And Laura? She'd say, "Tell the story you have to tell, as well as you can tell it. . . . And . . . it’s very good to have a daughter who is a professional writer."
* * *
Susan Wittig Albert is the national bestselling author of 50 adult novels and works of nonfiction, as well as more than 60 novels for young adults. She says, "I have a deep admiration for women writers who keep on keeping on through hail and high water. . . . Rose was one of those women."
She calls this work a labor of love, but notes that when she originally proposed it as narrative nonfiction, editors were enthusiastic about the writing, but worried that Laura's fans would not be pleased. So Albert chose to take a more direct route, self-publishing through her own Persevero Press
. As major publishing houses have consolidated and narrowed their focus, this option becomes more and more attractive to authors, even well-known writers with proven records of saleable writing. And this, too, should encourage writers, particularly women, and particularly we who write about sometimes unpopular topics.
# # #
I was given a free copy of this book to read and review, but no other compensation.
For more information:
See an interview with Susan Wittig Albert and additional information about women writers, at Story Circle Network (www.StoryCircle.org
And for details about the lives of Rose and Laura, including photographs of the homes where they lived while writing, as featured in the novel, see AWilderRoseTheNovel.com
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March 26, 2013
. . .
I Do Not Apologize for the Length of This Letter: The Mari Sandoz Letters on Native American Rights, 1940-1965.
Introduced and edited by Kimberli A. Lee
book review by Linda M. Hasselstrom
Mari Sandoz, who wrote extensively about the lives of both whites and Indians on the Plains, grew up during pioneer days in the Sandhills of Nebraska with parents who did not consider writing to be real work. Her father, who as Old Jules
was the subject of one of her best-known books, called writers and artists “the maggots of society.”
I wonder if Mari ever thought about that metaphor. Maggots, as that famous plainsman Hugh Glass learned in the work of Fred Manfred, can be healers. After a grizzly bear slashed the old trapper’s back, it was the maggots who scoured away the dead flesh and allowed the injured mountain man to live.
And Mari Sandoz dedicated her writing to the life of the plainsmen and plainswomen she knew as a child in the west. Her best-known books, besides the memoir about her father Jules Sandoz, were Crazy Horse
and Cheyenne Autumn
, about the Indians she knew as a child and as an historian of the Northern Plains.
Sandoz was obsessive about accuracy, a trait which served her well as a writer. But in addition, her demand for truth in the way people write about her Indian neighbors led her to spend considerable time ferociously fighting battles on their behalf with other historians, with legislators, with government officials, and the public. She considered writing about Indians (the term they prefer to Native Americans) to be a privilege and an honor, not an entitlement.
This book may demonstrate why Sandoz’s work did not get as much attention as her subject matter deserved. She remains one of the most unique writers in American literature and one of the least known and appreciated. Writers must, above all, write. As soon as she finished one book, she was behind schedule on another, working hard all her life to finish a cycle of books aimed at showing Plains residents, both white and Indian, to the rest of the world. A selection of her titles shows her massive scope: The Beaver Men: Spearheads of Empire; The Buffalo Hunters: The Story of the Hide Men; The Cattlemen: From the Rio Grande to the Far Marias; These Were the Sioux
; and the posthumous The Battle of the Little Bighorn
, banned from the federal monument for years because of the truths it told.
Sandoz’s writing schedule was extremely productive. She considered herself an historian; while she could write lyrically, she never had the leisure to polish her prose to a high gloss. She explained once that she could write either books or letters, but not both. And yet she wrote hundreds of letters (typing them, remember, one by one on a non-electric typewriter, not printing them swiftly on a computer or emailing them) clarifying history, attempting to correct negative stereotypes, and criticizing federal Indian policy. She was ferocious in her knowledge and defense of Indian ways and in attacking the worst destructiveness of her period: the termination program and the relocation program.
During much of her writing life, many white leaders, including Westerners, were working to persuade the federal government to terminate its treaty obligations to tribes, many of whom were then swindled out of their land with its rich natural resources. The relocation program promised Indians new and productive lives in cities but mostly tossed them into poverty without education or preparation. The book’s title, in fact, comes from a phrase she used first in a letter to President Truman and later to the heads of subcommittees on Indian affairs in both houses of Congress.
Besides all this, she wrote to Indian leaders and students, encouraging them in efforts to obtain help during a particularly difficult period in their history. Many of her letters, to readers, to other historians and writers, to critics, contain mini-history lessons several pages long, complete with references to research materials she’d dug out of musty government files.
She also took time to appear on television and radio, always consulting with tribal authorities before being interviewed about Indian culture. She resisted degrading stereotypes everywhere she saw them, noting that they not only demeaned the Indians in the eyes of whites but harmed the self-respect of the Indians themselves. She was, she insisted, giving her efforts back to the Indians in gratitude for the knowledge they had given her. “I owe a great personal debt, philosophically, to the Plains Indians,” she said. (P. 163) She kept the faith; some of the research materials entrusted to her by the old chiefs were destroyed upon her death, to preserve ancient secrets.
And always she made clear that she was speaking only with the respect and assent of the Indian people she consulted. In many instances, she became the only voice on their behalf that could be heard-- because the era’s whites believed the ugly stereotypes they had created.
Born in 1896, Sandoz worked her way through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and traveled throughout the West for research on her books, though she lived much of her life in New York. She was an important voice for Indians in the civil rights era of the 1960s and worked hard to help Indian writers and artists develop their own voices.
Her voice is still relevant; we are still not free of the stereotypes evident in Chapter Three which surfaced so clearly in the horrid Hollywood movie about Crazy Horse. Efforts to exploit Indians and their remaining resources are still frequent. They still need, as Sandoz said in 1959, “land, education, credit and hope.” (P. 66.) And the exploiters are still making money from ruination in White Clay, NE. (p. 72.)
I was a little frustrated that the book could not provide both sides of the correspondence, for example President Truman’s response to Sandoz. However, usually the letters are self-explanatory and the editor provides a helpful overview at the beginning of each chapter. Editor Lee astutely forced me to admit that Sandoz does a little stereotyping of her own, romanticizing a bit in her attempt to demonstrate the rightful place of Plains Indians in American society and their importance to modern Plains history and culture.
Through her books as well as her letters as shown in this volume and others, Sandoz is still working to heal the damage done to Plains residents, white and Indian alike, by greed, exploitation, poverty, alcohol, evils of civilization. Maggot of society, indeed.
# # #
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October 2, 2012
Triage by Jane Elkington Wohl
Published 2012 by Daniel and Daniel Publishers.
Jane Elkington Wohl is an English Instructor at Sheridan (Wyoming) College and Creative Writing Instructor for the Goddard College MFA in Writing Program. Goddard is a low-residency college in Plainfield, VT, specializing in allowing students to create their own bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I’ve always meant to ask Jane how she manages that looooong commute and forgot again.
Jane’s taut poems were included in Leaning into the Wind
and Woven on the Wind
and I was privileged to comment on her book from High Plains Press, Beasts in Snow
At the Equality State Book Festival in Casper during September of 2012, I bought Jane’s latest poetry collection, Triage
. As its title suggests, this is a dark book; she warned me.
But like the best of dark poetry-- and the darkness of winter, of death, of life-- these verses lead us through darkness and into light. The series of twelve sonnets, “Meditations: Iraq War 2003," provide the most coherent, insightful and ultimately hopeful thoughts I’ve seen on that mess. Moreover, she creates this political commentary in sonnet form, a challenge few poets (including me) are willing to take these days.
“How hard it is to find any god right now,” she remarks; “today it seems our small round world’s gone mad.” She leads the reader through cynicism (the promises of our leaders “sound as dull and cheap as tin”) and despair as she observes young soldiers holding babies orphaned by war. These poems brutally recite the real facts, show us the real pictures of the war our soldiers have been fighting for so long; “it’s hard to find real poetry in this.”
And yet she does find real poetry in the war and all it means to us, whose sons and daughters are fighting as we have ordered them to do. Autumn leads the poet to a “Winter Sestina,” through layers and layers of living.
The second series of sonnets, “News: May 2004,” struck me most forcefully because throughout the dreadful news, she returns again and again to the blooming of pink poppies. In a very small way-- no sonnets!-- I took the same trip in my poem “Reading the Newspaper,” published in Dirt Songs
Jane’s second sonnet series concludes, “The news is bad today, but still the pink poppies bloom.”
Reading the Newspaper in the Back Yard
by Linda M. Hasselstrom
Two Marines die in mortar fire in Baghdad.
Four red tulips open in front of the house.
Searchers find the child dead-- a green
plaster cast still cradles her broken arm.
Iris spears rise sharp above last year’s
dry curls. An earthquake shakes L.A.
Clematis shoots from sawdust
to climb the arbor’s trellised wall.
A soldier dies in a non-hostile incident.
Daffodils open beside the old cottonwood.
In Veracruz a gas leak kills six people.
Buds swell the twisted branches of a lilac.
A rebel bomb explodes in a crowd.
A Texas county’s first female sheriff
is also Hispanic, a lesbian, and a Democrat.
Blue bells bloom
on the same day
as last year.
Read Jane Wohl’s poetry and be heartened, given strength and courage to face the reality of the sometimes-brutal and foolish world in which we live.
# # #
For More Information:
Wyoming Authors Wiki website for Jane Elkington Wohl
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May 2, 2012
I’ve just written a cover comment for Candace Savage’s next book, Geography of Blood
, which prompted me to return to the first book of hers I read, Prairie: A Natural History
, published by Greystone Books, Canada, in 2004.
The photos in this book are so beautiful it’s easy to skim over the writing; that would be an error because Savage’s writing and research are excellent. If you think the Great Plains are flat and featureless, this is the book to introduce you to their excellent variety.
Grasses, notes Savage, “have migrated to every continent except Antarctica and have diversified into about 10,000 species.” Of these, some twelve dozen distinctly different native grasses naturally occur in the Great Plains!
Because the climate here is more variable than it is almost anywhere else on the continent, including periods that are much wetter or much drier than the long term, these grasses need to be adaptable. And they are, “able to dial their metabolism down when conditions are unfavorable for growth and speed them up when the weather improves.”
Grasses, she notes, are not passive, blowing idly in the wind but “lean, mean growing machines, designed to make the most of limited and unreliable resources.”
Therefore, the first rule of living in grasslands should be to preserve, not destroy, this rich resource. And yet to create cities and subdivisions we pave and plow it wildly, planting tender non-native grasses we call “lawn” and spreading poison to keep the useless little blades alive against huge odds constituted by the climate, predators and nature.
Savage also faced head-on the folks who insist that bison are the most perfectly adapted grazing species for the plains and should replace cattle. “.... bison and cattle are fundamentally alike. Removing wild American bison and replacing them with tame Eurasian cattle-- though a stunning act of hubris-- was ecologically relatively neutral.”
Management is, of course, the key. “Fortunately, even when confined by fences, cattle help to maintain patches of vegetation. ...and this effect can be enhanced by implementing an appropriate regime of management.” By manipulating the variables-- number of cattle, season and duration of grazing and rest-- “ranchers can manage the prairie to provide an array of habitats. The best and wisest land managers do exactly that because they understand that rangelands with a natural diversity of vegetation will outproduce and outlast those that are reduced to homogeneous spans of grass.”
Want to know about the prairie? Get the book. Go through it at least once just to enjoy the photographs of expanses of grassland, gorgeous and rare water elements and the native wildlife. And then sit down and read it for the information.
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March 15, 2012
. . .
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
by Lynne Truss (2003, Miraculous Panda, Ltd.) is my favorite punctuation manual and I recommend it for all writers. As its author says, “It’s tough being a stickler for punctuation these days.”
The subtitle tells it all: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
The introduction will give you the flavor:
“Either this will ring bells for you, or it won’t. A printed banner has appeared on the concourse of a petrol station near where I live. “Come inside,” it says, “for CD’s, VIDEO’s, DVD’s, and BOOK’s.
If this satanic sprinkling of redundant apostrophes causes no little gasp of horror or quickening of the pulse, you should probably put down this book at once.”
As soon as I began writing this note, I started flipping pages and finding quotable lines on every single one.
“. . . standards of punctuation in general in the UK are indeed approaching the point of illiteracy; self-justified philistines (“Get a life!”) are truly in the driving seat of our culture.”
The advice of Ms. Truss is not for the faint of heart-- but if you want to be a professional writer, you’d better buck up and give up faintheartedness in favor of correctness. Here’s my favorite handout, taken from her pages so as to disguise my own fury by quoting hers:
Its and It’s
“The confusion of the possessive “its” (no apostrophe) with the contractive “it’s” (with apostrophe) is an unequivocal signal of illiteracy and sets off a simple Pavlovian “kill” response in the average stickler. The rule is: the word “it’s” (with apostrophe) stands for “it is” or “it has”. If the word does not stand for “it is” or “it has” then what you require is “its”. “This is extremely easy to grasp. Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation. No matter that you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, “Good food at it’s best”, you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.”
--- Lynne Truss, Eats Shoots & Leaves, p. 44
I couldn't have said it better myself.
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August 1, 2011
Cover of "A White Bird Flying"
. . .
My mother grew up on her family ranch with an interest in books that lasted her whole life; she read to me, quoted writers to me, and turned me into a reader-- though she’d rather not have turned me into a writer.
Once we moved to the ranch, both my parents encouraged my reading habits; I was always allowed to open one gift before they got up on Christmas morning and it was always a book and I always read quietly until they arose. Sometimes, though, if I was reading in the middle of the day they encouraged me to stop reading and go hoe the garden.
Mother preferred romantic poets-- she’d kept poetry books from her college days, some inscribed as gifts from suitors, and quoted the Brownings often. She loved the books of Bess Streeter Aldrich. No doubt I considered my tastes superior to my mother’s because I never read Aldrich. But recently my faithful correspondents (Hobie and Lois Morris), modern homesteaders in upstate New York, mentioned how much they enjoy her work. They also compared my writing to hers, praising us both for bringing the prairie to life.
So I decided it was time. Yesterday I finished A White Bird Flying
, originally published in 1931 and kept in print by the University of Nebraska Press. The story of Laura, the writer, bears some close resemblances to Aldrich’s own biography and to mine as well.
I could identify with Laura when she pictured herself as a writer, standing outside her own emotions sometimes until she almost missed the important part of human interactions. Laura was a hick when she went to college, just as I was, and stumbled over some of the same problems with sororities, studying, and her friendships with both men and women. Somehow, she grew to believe that she could not be a writer in Nebraska, just as I at one time concluded that great writers had to live in New York, if not California. I suspect that Bess Streeter Aldrich may have thought similarly, but she spent her life in small towns and wrote nine novels and numerous other works about the life she lived.
Since I encourage you to read this book, and others by Aldrich, I won’t tell you how Laura solved her dilemma. Aldrich’s descriptions of life in a small town in Nebraska are filled with details that made me laugh and cry over their resemblance to the places I’ve known and loved.
And writers, especially those from small towns in the Great Plains, if you read nothing else of hers, please go to Aldrich's website and read “Why I Live in a Small Town,” published in Ladies Home Journal
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For more information:
Bess Streeter Aldrich’s website
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