October 13, 2021

She Moves! She Speaks!

         Today’s post is to share a number of recent videos featuring yours truly, star of words and pictures, and now moving pictures, too.  In truth, it’s always a little horrifying to see myself on video - the voice that sounds so strange, the hair that’s poking up all wrong - but I stand by my message, so I’m going to share.
        First up, the recording of my recent on-line author reading is now available on Strong Women-Strange Worlds’s YouTube channel.  The past three events are now available there, both in their entirety and each individual author’s reading as a separate snippet.  Here’s my snippet, in which I read three (very slightly abridged) creatures from On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination.  I hope you enjoy them!  And then by all means go enjoy some of the other readings.  (New videos will be added, both going forward and getting through our earlier events, so subscribe to the SWSW YouTube channel to be notified when new content is available.)
        Secondly, here’s a short video made last month by a group of local high school seniors for a school project highlighting a community organization.  They interviewed me about Needham Open Studios, as well as filming some scenes at our recent NOS Inside-Out art sale.
        While I’m at it, I’ll share some slightly less brand-new videos that are also available.  Here is the entirety of my talk about “The Fantastic Bestiary” as presented at Balticon 55 in May.  Unlike the other videos I’m sharing, it’s not a mere snippet, but it’s chock-full of fabulous medieval art - plus it also includes a reading of another creature from my bestiary at the 43:25 mark.  (Be sure to turn off the closed-captioning unless you actually need it, because it’s auto-generated and has some pretty bad inaccuracies!  Plus, it covers up some of the pictures.)
        Finally, I’ll include a video I may have linked before, made for the Medfield Holiday Art Show last December.  In it I talk mostly about making art, with just a little about writing.  (I’m hoping to take part in the Medfield Holiday Stroll in person this year, but we shall see what December brings…)
        And as a non-video bonus, an interview from the Boston Book Festival in June, in which I and fellow member of Broad Universe E.C. Ambrose discuss why speculative fiction by underrepresented voices is especially important (and fun).  You can read that here.
        Yeah, in all these interviews I’m hitting the same themes over and over: how art can remind us to appreciate and share the beauty all around us, how imagination can help us make the world a better place, how enjoying art and writing together can connect us…  But I think it’s worth repeating, and I hope you enjoy seeing at least some of these varied versions of the message!  (And please try to be tolerant of any bad hair you may witness.)


[Strong Women-Strange Worlds First Friday QuickReads, October 1, 2021;

Video made by K. Harris, N. Kelleher, and S. Cai for the Greater Boston Project, September 2021;

Balticon 55 presentation “The Fantastic Bestiary,” Baltimore Science Fiction Society, May 2021;

Medfield Holiday Stroll and Tree Lighting broadcast, December 2020.]

October 8, 2021

Monsters and Aliens - Poetry

         I decided to have a look at modern sci fi and fantasy poetry for children, and although my definition of “modern” is pretty broad (say, the past 60 years or so), it became evident that the subject matter has a narrower focus than I originally planned.  So much of fantasy poetry written for children is about creatures that for this post I focussed in on that.  And even within the poetry about creatures, I discovered that it’s almost entirely about monsters.  From Roald Dahl to Shel Silverstein to Jack Prelutsky, poets seem to be convinced that the way to a child’s heart is jocular horror.  Prelutsky wrote an entire book of poems about imaginary aliens from imaginary planets, and almost every single one of the poems tells how these aliens will slaughter you, or how you will die on that planet.  So much for the wonders of space exploration!
        But while there is no doubt that many children do enjoy such poems, I tend to prefer a wider range of marvels, inspiring delight as well as fear.  So I have a few poems for you today that introduce a variety of creatures.  First is one of Prelutsky’s few aliens that is not directly murderous.  Still horror, perhaps, but not actually violent.  (You can click on the picture to make it large enough to read the poem.)  I do like that the vocabulary and syntax in this poem are quite sophisticated and don’t talk down to children, and that it revels in dramatic sound, 
with rhythm, rhyme and other poetic stylings reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe.
        Next, another slightly dangerous monster, quickly dealt with in a very different style of poem, by Lilian Moore.  This one is more Ogden-Nash-esque, with its witty one-liner.
        I have to include one creature today that’s actually helpful and friendly, so here’s The Giraft by Jane Yolen.


If you’re out in the ocean, afloat on the deep,

With the sharks making straight for your craft,

Simply close your eyes tightly and whistle a shrill

S.O.S. for the nearest Giraft.


If you plan to be going away on a cruise

And you find your lifeboats understaffed,

Do not give it a thought, simply whistle a tune

That will call on the nearest Giraft.


For they sail very swiftly, can outpace a sub,

And their periscope necks fore and aft

Let them keep a sharp eye on the ocean so no

One can sneak up behind a Giraft.


I have rowed many miles and sailed quite a few,

And on none of those trips have I laughed,

For my travels all filled me with fear and with dread

Till I learned of the friendly Giraft.


        Since I like my creatures marvelous, I also have to include one by Dr. Seuss, although it’s perhaps a stretch to call his poems “modern.”  Nevertheless, he’s got plenty of fun beasties to choose from, and while some are ferocious, most are simply strange and silly rather than frightening.  This is an excerpt from If I Ran the Circus, which includes dozens of fantastical creatures.


And you’ll now meet the Foon!  The Remarkable Foon

Who eats sizzling hot pebbles that fall off the moon!

And the reason he likes them red hot, it appears,

Is he greatly enjoys blowing smoke from his ears.


        I shall conclude with a deadly monster from the swamps of Sleethe, to represent the common sort of screams-for-laughs poem.  After all, we are beginning to get into the season of Hallowe’en.  (For a couple more monsters, follow the links to Dahl and Silverstein above.)  It’s certainly a poem that takes exuberant delight in its own horror, and I like its eloquence.
        That’s plenty of creatures and plenty of poems for one post.  Which is your favorite?


[Pictures and Poems: The Beholder in the Silence, poem by Jack Prelutsky, illustration by Jimmy Pickering from The Swamps of Sleethe: Poems from beyond the solar system, 2009;

Johnny Drew a Monster, poem by Lilian Moore 1972, illustration by Kevin Hawkes 1998, from Imagine That! Poems of Never-Was, selected by Prelutsky;

The Giraft, poem by Jane Yolen, 1994;

The Foon, poem and illustration by Dr. Seuss from If I Ran the Circus, 1956;

The Swamps of Sleethe: Poems from beyond the solar system, by Prelutsky, illustration by Pickering, 2009.]

October 4, 2021

Fungus Among Us

         This is the time of year when mushrooms spring up everywhere overnight like aliens.  In my last couple of walks through the woods - not even very long walks - I have come across dozens of different species (close to 50) pushing up through the leaf mold and appearing on trees, some shy, others bold as brass.  I took lots of pictures and you can see a few that I shared on my daily Instagram; but for this blog  it has to be block prints.  
        I’ve started with a pleasing linocut print found on Etsy, where, to judge by my quick search, mushrooms are fairly popular.  I’ll admit that I’m not a true mushroom lover, either to eat or to decorate my house with, but I do find them quite fascinating scientifically.  This first piece is definitely not a 
scientific botanical print, but it does capture some of the sheer exuberance of mushroomage that I’ve been seeing on my recent walks.  There are also some fun hidden details, such as snails and caterpillars.
        If we want to see some attempts to depict fungi more scientifically, we can turn to the early botanical encyclopaedias of the Renaissance.  These assorted fungi appear in the pioneering work by Carolus Clusias, one of the most influential of sixteenth-century botanists, whose study of the mushrooms of Central Europe was particularly valuable.  You can see that the wood block prints that illustrate his work are not particularly artistic in the sense of attractive compositions, but they do include careful details, and varied views in order to highlight distinctive features.
        The Honzo Zufu, a Japanese botanical encyclopaedia from the nineteenth century, manages to add some artistic aesthetic into its scientific illustrations.  These hand-watercolored wood block prints are less detailed than those from Clusius, but may be among the most cheerful mushrooms ever seen!  (You can see more about the Honzo Zufu in this previous post.)
        Returning to views of mushrooms depicted chiefly as art, here are two pieces from some of my favorite twentieth-century printmakers.  These both depict the famously poisonous fly agaric mushroom.  The first, by Grace Albee (previous post about her here), seems to be purely 
decorative.  Its red ink grabs the attention just like the red caps of the mushroom - but there is one tiny hint of memento mori to set off the deadly mushrooms: the small black fly.  (On the other hand, maybe there is no significance to the fly other than the fact which gives the mushroom its name: it is traditionally used for catching flies.)  The piece by M.C. Escher, by contrast, seems to be all about the allegory of the strange toadstool, which can be hallucinogenic as well as poisonous.  The Dutch verse beneath translates (according to the best efforts of the internet) as “Growth of mystery, afterglow of the night, void is my resurrection: a sworn splendor.”  I really have no idea what that means, but it’s clearly Deep.
        Let’s wade back out of these deep waters by a return to one last scientific image: a plate from 1562 that shows a variety of mushrooms - except that it really depicts very little variety at all compared with the amazing array of shapes, colors, and growth habits exhibited by mushrooms even just within a mile of my house.  Mushrooms really are strange, alien things, and if you have the opportunity to walk anywhere where something can get a toehold and grow, keep your eyes out for them and prepare to be astounded!


[Pictures: Mushroom Kingdom, linocut print by Laura K. Murdoch (Image from her Etsy shop laurakmurdoch);

Fungus, wood block prints from Rariorum plantarum historia by Carolus Clusius, 1601 (Images from Biodiversity Heritage Library);

Mushrooms, hand-colored wood block prints from Honzo Zufu by Iwasaki Tsunemasa, c 1828-1844 (Image from National Diet Library);

Fly Agaric, wood engraving by Grace Albee, 1973 (Image from Davis);

Emblemata, Toadstool, woodcut by M.C. Escher, 1931 (Image from mcescher.com);

Fungi, hand-colored wood block print by Wolfgang Meyerpeck, from Commentarii in sex libros Pedacii Dioscoridis by Pietro Andrea Mattioli, 1562 (You can see an uncolored print from a 1565 edition at Biodiversity Heritage Library).]