Well, it's certainly no secret on this blog that my Sacred Trinity of favorite living poets consists of Lisel Mueller, Mary Oliver, and our own Jane Yolen. When any of them have a new book on the shelves, it's cause for celebration -- and doubly so in the case of Jane's luminous new collection, Sister Fox’s Field Guide to the Writing Life, for a number of the poems made their first appearance here, in response to posts on Myth & Moor.
Drawing on myth, folklore, fairy tales, and the everyday enchantments of the natural world, Sister Fox (a most beguiling little Trickster) presents poems dedicated to the daily vocation of writing: the rigours and the pleasures, the sweat and the magic, the practical craft and the numinous art.
A storyteller, Jane says,
unpacks his bag of tales
with fingers quick
as a weaver’s
picking the weft threads
threading the warp.
Watch his fingers.
Watch his lips
speaking the old familiar words:
and there was not..."
Storytellers, poets, and Tricksters alike are liars whose lies speak truths. "We reveal in stories, " she writes, "even as we revel in them, stripping off skin, muscle, tendons, flensing down to the bone."
All arts have their mystical elements, their Muses and moments of inspiration flashing like thunderbolts thrown by the gods, but these poems do not shy away from the mundane, earth-bound aspects of the writing life, or the labor that it entails.
At the start of her poem "Switching on the Light," Jane quotes scientist and inventor Thomas Alva Eddison: "Opportunity is missed by most people," he said, "because it arrives in overalls and looks like work.”
Just so my Muse arrives, sleeves rolled up,
apron tied in front, garden gloves hiding
broken, dirt-encrusted nails.
She hands me a hammer, a spirit level, a saw,
says: Get to work, slug-a-bed, don’t be a sloven!
her language as archaic as her ethic.
Although this is a book that will speak most of all to fellow writers (especially here in the Mythic Arts field), it also has much to offer to creative artists in general....and isn't that all of us? We all create in one way or another: not only in forms traditionally labelled as art, but also in crafting our homes, our gardens, our meals, our families, our work, our communities, and in sculpting the very shape of our lives. In this book, Sister Fox gathers poems that address the daily-yet-timeless process of making, and how that effects our lives, our world. Her bright bushy tail wrapped snugly around her, she sits and she quietly ponders these poems:
She thinks about their habitats, their markings,
the chunnering and chatter of their songs.
They are the birdlife of the writer’s world.
She likes the feel of them, the scent.
She licks her lips.
Sister Fox's Field Guide to the Writing Life by Jane Yolen (with decorations by Laura Anderson) will be published this autumn by Unsettling Wonders (John Patrick Pazdziora, editor) in conjunction with Papaveria Press (Erzebet Carr, editor). The publication date is October 31, and the book can pre-ordered here.
In the world of Tricksters, Coyote is the big, bad, bold-as-brass cousin of Sister Fox. The following poem from Jane's new book is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author and her publisher.
I didn’t see you trotting sideways,
Coyote, thicket-born shape-shifter,
ears pointing toward the wind.
Where were you when the story turned,
faltered, placed a stake in its own heart?
When need was so great, I wept
over the keyboard, mistaking
your bold footprints, that wild track,
for something much tamer.
Help me find the trail again,
out here in the wold where stories start,
where crag and sinkhole
speak a language we all knew once;
and stories poured forth,
gushing like a freshet in the spring.
- Jane Yolen
The art above is: "Woman and Fox" by the surrealist photographer Katerina Plotnikova (Russia); one of Laura Anderson's Sister Fox decorations; "Hare and Fox" by Jackie Morris (Wales); a Little Elvie illustration by Catherine Hyde (Cornwall); "Fox Confessor" by Julie Morstad (Vancouver, B.C.); an unattributed coyote photograph; a Medicine Road illustration by Charles Vess (Virginia); a detail from my "Coyote Woman" (painted in the Arizona desert); and another unattributed coyote photograph.