The Adventures of Nassali Teresa

are finished!! At least, the first draft is.

A huge and total hooray for NaPo. No way would I ever have made it this far with such a project without the daily NaPo prod.

I’m labeling this post “verse novel,” recalling this semi-prophetic post on verse novels from last August. But The Adventures of Nassali Teresa is not a verse novel — at 3,769 words and 18 pages it’s way too short for that.  But it’s still pretty long for a NaPo project.  And it’s definitely a story and definitely mostly in verse. Verse story?

It still needs a lot of work. I’ll probably work/rework it all the way through this weekend and then let it sit for a while and see how it hits me in a  month or so.

Then I’ll be looking for victims volunteers to pass judgment on it, so watch out…

(A happy bonus is that the tale includes 45 lines of blank verse, which definitely count towards the BV 1000 challenge. Up to 954 lines — only 46 to go! Hey, it’s only been two years since I started it…)

The Golden Gate

by Vikram Seth. The third of four verse novels I’m reading in bits and pieces and all at the same time, kinda.

I have to say that this one is going nowhere for me, absolutely nowhere. The lives of a group of San Francisco yuppies, rendered in 690 Pushkin sonnets. Modeled on Eugene Onegin, one assumes.

I haven’t read Eugene Onegin, but ouch is all I can say about this one. Really ouch.

Definitely a cautionary tale for those with verse novel ambitions, I would say.

Be interested to hear from anyone who has had a better experience.

Shamrock Tea

by Ciaran Carson, is number two of the verse novels I’m looking at (and, yes, probably number six in The Big Pile Of Books I Am Reading At The Same Time). It has 101 short chapters, each named for a color, and I’m at 24.

The best way I can think of to describe its form is by evoking one of those photo-portraits that are made up – when you zoom in and in and in — of hundreds of other individual portraits. A tapestry/mosaic form, with lots and lots of zoom-inable detail in each stitch of the tapestry, each tiny square of the mosaic. A behold the particular, and therefore the general sort of worldview.

So far, there seem to be three overall focal points — a 15th century painting (the Arnolfini Portrait), its subjects and colors, by Jan Van Eyck; Catholic saints, their devoutness, their reported miracles and their feast days; and the deductive reasoning method of Sherlock Holmes. The chapters are tightly-written and each labeled with the name of a particular color. They link to each other, and within themselves, in myriad ways — the whole thing is a continuous flow of word-association, color-association, thought-association, concept-association, date-association — in a knitting, reaching kind of way that links lives and feelings across centuries, from the Middle Ages to the present day, looking askance at received notions of space and time. So far the present day “action” is taking place in relation to and through the prism of the Arnolfini portrait (which sounds magical/miraculous, which it is — there’s quite a bit of that in Shamrock Tea).

So far, anyhow. The “verse” part is prose-poem rather than free or formal stanzas, by the way. (Bizarre to be reading Barret-Browning in blank verse and this colorful poetic-prose in the same breath, as it were.)

I am reminded almost continuously  in reading Carson of Annie Dillard (Holy the Firm and For The Time Being, but also Pilgrim at Tinker Creek). Although Carson’s focus is narrower and more specific, they share the same penchant for weaving historical, sociological, religious “trivia” into commentary that spans the ages and ends always in the present day. (No-one asked, but I have to say Dillard’s language and her “reach” win hands down for me….)

Here are three extracts:

From Ch 4: Scarlet – “For my twelfth birthday [my Uncle Celestine] gave me an omnibus edition of the Sherlock Holmes stories. To a great mind, says Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, nothing is little; and from a drop of water, he maintained, a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara, without having seen or heard of one or the other; for all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known when we are shown a single link of it.”

From Ch 14: Raven – “Although he was occasionally mistaken for a wild animal by passing shepherds, Benedict’s reputation for sanctity and wisdom eventually became such that he was importuned to descend from his desolate cavern. He established a community of monks at Subiaco; about the year 530, he withdrew from thence to Monte Cassino, near Naples, where he founded the greatest monastery the world has ever known.

As recorded by his hagiographer, St. Gregory, the life of Benedict abounds in miracles. Standing one night, praying by his window, he experienced a vision whereby the whole world seemed to be gathered in one sunbeam, and brought thus before his eyes; for to him who is granted the light of eternity, all things are that light; and therefore every point in the universe can be visited from every other point.

St Benedict’s emblem is a raven.”

Ch 21: Permanent Black: “Van Eyck duplicated with the brush the work of goldsmiths in metal and gems, recapturing that glow which seemed to reflect the radiance of the Divine, the superessential light. For viewed in that eternal light, all things are equal, from the glint of a nail in the wooden floor of a burgher’s house, to the glittering spires of the New Jerusalem.”

Aurora Leigh

Getting started on Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s Aurora Leigh, per my earlier post on verse novels. Although I don’t recall doing so, I must have watched The Barretts of Wimpole Street at some point, because I can’t otherwise explain my complete familiarity with Barret-Browning’s life story and complete absence of familiarity with anything she ever wrote (except for the How do I love thee? sonnet in the vaguest sort of way and backgroundly knowing she wrote Sonnets from the Portuguese).

Just starting out, not quite done with Book I, which details Aurora’s early life — her Italian mother’s death at her age four, her childhood in Italy followed by her father’s death at her age 13, and subsequent transplanting to England and the care of a conventional spinster aunt.  (I love her description of nature a la England vice Italy: All the fields / are tied up fast with hedges, nosegay-like..! So true — it’s the best thing about England!)

Some cool turns of phrase that handily encapsulate things you always knew but never could encapsulate yourself:

I felt a mother-want about the world,
and still went seeking, like a bleating lamb
Left out at night in shutting up the fold –
As restless as a nest-deserted bird
Grown chill through something being away, though what
it knows not.

And this description of that thing that keeps those who must write on their imaginative toes even if they don’t yet know their fate:

I had relations in the Unseen, and drew
The elemental nutriment and heat
From nature, as earth feels the sun at nights,
Or a babe sucks surely in the dark

And a couple of items for the Rocking Title for Novels file:

– A Doubt for Cloudy Seasons
– Dreamers After Dark

Nine books in blank verse. I suppose a key question might be — what does verse bring to this that prose would not have (or vice versa)? No idea yet.

verse novel?

Michael Symmons, writing in The Guardian, “explores the unstable ground between poetry and prose with his top 10 verse novels.”

Hm. All kinds of bells of resonance are ringing madly in my head. Why on earth? Do I really think I want to/can/should write a verse novel?

Whatever the case may be, some reading is evidently in order. I think I’ll start this project by exploring the following four recommendations from Symmons’ Top 10 Verse Novels list:

3. The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth
Already an accomplished poet, Seth flexed his narrative muscles here before embarking on ‘A Suitable Boy’. A witty and urbane San Francisco story.

4. Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Barrett Browning spent at least a decade conceiving and crafting this story of a struggling poet and her agonies about her vocation. Her work gave the verse novel a radical edge, raising issues about poverty, women in society and the role and value of art.

7. Shamrock Tea by Ciaran Carson
Carson is one of Ireland’s greatest writers, author of award-winning poetry books and novels. Though they are published in their distinct categories, many of his books could hold their own in either camp. His mastery of the long poetic line enables him to build stories and characters in the most wonderful lyric poetry.

8. The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson
Canadian poet Anne Carson’s tracing of a single love affair through to the breakdown of a marriage has won her many admirers. This book is an amazing balancing act – classical and colloquial, surreal but rooted in telling everyday details.