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Again Calls The Owl Sketch, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

Margaret Craven worked as a journalist and didn’t publish her first novel until her late 60’s (something I find strangely hopeful). Born in Helena, Montana in 1901, she grew up in Puget Sound, Washington of meager means, worked hard to be one of the first women to attend Stanford, and graduated in 1924 with honors.

Craven’s novel I Heard the Owl Call My Name was first published in Canada in 1967. Picked up by an American publisher in 1973, the book was on the 1970’s bestseller list. It was made into a film in 1973 and shown as part of the CBS television network’s “GE Theater” series.

Near the end of her life, Craven wrote Again Calls the Owl, an autobiography in response to readers’ questions about how she came to write I Heard the Owl Call My Name. On a recent visit, Liz’s mother bought an old copy of Again Calls the Owl to read on her plane ride from Wyoming to Minnesota. She passed it on to me.

As opposed to memoir, the book is sparsely written in the autobiographical style of laying down significant chronological events that shaped the author’s life. A highpoint was Craven’s unexpected rendezvous with writer Gertrude Stein. A friend of Margaret’s had grown up in San Francisco with Alice B. Toklas and arranged a meeting when Stein came to town for a hospital visit at Mark Hopkins.

Alice B. Toklas walked Margaret into Gertrude’s room where she sat on her bed writing letters in a red velvet robe (an image not hard to imagine). Stein welcomed the young writer and they had a long chat about writing that ended with Stein’s sadness at her friend Ernest Hemingway and “the change that had come with The Sun Also Rises,” something she termed “the beginning of his egomania.” 

Again Calls the Owl is a short read, about 120 pages, and includes Craven’s pencil drawings interspersed throughout the book. I wanted to share Stein’s writing advice to Margaret during their three hour visit. She wrote down what Stein had told her on the cable car ride home:


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“Every writer must have common sense. He must be sensitive and serious. But he must not grow solemn. He must not listen to himself. If he does, he might as well be under a tombstone. When he takes himself solemnly, he has no more to say. Yet he must despise nothing, not even solemn people. They are part of life and it’s his job to write about life.”

 

“Be direct. Indirectness ruins good writing. There is inner confusion in the world today and because of it people are turning back to old standards like children to their mothers. This makes indirect writing.”

 

“A writer must preserve a balance between sensitivity and vitality. Highbrow writers are sensitive but not vital. Commercial writers are vital but not sensitive. Trying to keep this balance is always hard. It is the whole job of living.”

 

“When one writes a thing — when you discover and then put it down, which is the essence of discovering it — one is done with it. What people get out of it is none of the writer’s business.”

 

“Every writer is self-conscious. It’s one reason he is a writer. And he is lonely. If you know three writers in a lifetime, that is a great many.”

 

“You do not have to write what the editors want. You can write what you want and if you develop sufficient craftsmanship, you can sell it, too. I want you to write for the Saturday Evening Post. It demands the best craftsmanship.”

 

  -Gertrude Stein from Again Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven, Dell Publishing, 1980

 

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Though Gertrude asked Margaret to stay in touch, she never contacted Stein again. I recently learned from Bo’s blog Seeded Earth that there is a statue of Gertrude Stein in New York City’s Bryant Park. Much to my amazement, it was the first public statue of an American woman placed in the whole of New York City — it was installed in 1992. (Here’s the link to view Bo’s photograph of Gertrude at Seeded Earth and read more about the sculpture.)

I see Craven’s euphoria about her visit with Stein much the way I feel when I go and hear Nikki Giovanni, Ann Patchett, Patricia Smith, Steve Almond, or Mary Oliver talk about their work and have a chance to shake their hands when they sign my books. Or when our Poetry and Meditation Group receives a card from Billy Collins, Gary Soto, or Robert Bly.

It is the same joy I feel from the privilege of having studied with Natalie Goldberg. The things she has taught me about the practice of writing are immeasurable. There is much to be learned from the wisdom and knowledge of published writers who have already paid their dues.

At the end of Again Calls the Owl, Craven reflects on Walk Gently This Good Earth, her novel about growing up in the Cascades and her father’s life in Montana. One last quote from Craven urges writers to take heed:

A professional writer must be careful what he writes now about the past which could be used to hurt innocent people unmercifully.

I think it’s time my country does what the Indians of Kingcome are doing. We must return to our roots, our own safety and integrity, and I think this is beginning to occur. Our lives depend upon it.

-from Again Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven, Dell Publishing, 1980

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Resources:

 

-posted on red Ravine, Monday, August 10th, 2009 with gratitude to oliverowl

-related to post: Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read?

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Shadows Of The Cattail, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Shadows Of The Cattail, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Robert Frost was an American poet who lived from March 26, 1874, to January 29, 1963. He was born in San Francisco, made his way to Massachusetts via Harvard, and finally settled in New Hampshire.

My 3rd grade English teacher, Mrs. Boykin, loved three poets:  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost. She would recite their poetry to us while she slow walked past dusty slate boards, 6-pronged chalk holders with wire fingers, and a rattly, roll-down map of the world, circa 1963.

I became familiar with Frost’s poetry around the age of 9. But it wasn’t until adulthood that I became obsessed with learning about the geographical places that writers call Home.

The Robert Frost Farm in Derry was home to Robert Frost from 1900-1911. In October of 1900, he settled on the Derry farm in New Hampshire, just over the Massachusetts line, purchased for him by his grandfather. But from 1915 to 1920, it was The Frost Place, in Franconia, New Hampshire where he and his family lived full-time, and went on to spend nineteen summers.



Snowbound, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Snowbound, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Snowbound, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Frost received four Pulitzer Prizes, in 1924, 1931, 1937, and 1943. He lived a long life, and his poems are often recited and remembered by heart. The Road Not Taken, one of his most famous poems, was published in 1916 in his collection Mountain Interval.

But I was reminded of another Frost poem by amuirin from Stop & Wander, in her comment on Listening to Silence. It led me to go back and read Frost again, to revisit his life. So it is Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, published in 1923 in his New Hampshire volume, that I am choosing to post.

My favorite research find was a 1960 interview with Robert Frost by Richard Poirier in The Paris Review. The interview took place in Frost’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts near the end of his life.

He was wearing plaid slippers and was seated in a blue overstuffed chair (with no arms) where he often sat to write. He never had a writing table, a desk, or a writing room. He wrote on a writing board, or the sole of his shoe.

That’s where Frost and I part ways. Though I often write in coffee shops on the back of a crumpled Post-It (just ask Liz how many pieces of paper she finds scattered all over the house), or in a pocket notebook at a sunken spot near the living room window — I still long for a writing room. A comfortable desk, floor to ceiling bookshelves to display my personal book collection, a room of my own.



The Walk Home, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Shadow Stepping, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Shades Of Blue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Robert Frost wrote Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening in June, 1922 at his house in South Shaftsbury, Vermont (now home to the Robert Frost Stone House Museum). He lived in the Stone House from 1920 to 1929 (there is an excellent chronology with photographs at The Friends of Frost).

It is said that Frost had been up the entire night writing the long poem New Hampshire, and had finally finished when he realized morning had come. When he went out to view the sunrise, Stopping By Woods came to him like a hallucination.

I thought of Natalie’s chapter in Thunder and Lightning entitled Hallucinating Emeralds. Sometimes writing comes like that. You hear songwriters talk about flashes of inspiration, or dream sequences where whole songs write themselves, and the next morning flow magically from their pens.

My second favorite research find was an audio version of Robert Frost reciting, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. You can listen to it at Salon Audio – Robert Frost.  If you’ve been reading red Ravine, I guess you know by now, I’m a big fan of writers reading their work. I want to hear their voices.

Robert Frost is one of the classical poets — traditional enough to capture those who have been around awhile; detailed enough to lead us across that bend in the woods; wide enough that anyone can find a small opening. And if someone asked me to choose the Frost of our time, I might look no further than Ted Kooser.



Cattail Forest, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Cattail Forest, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening


Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

-Robert Frost, New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1923), p. 87. D-11 0397 Fisher Library.



Shadows Of The Cattail, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Shadows Of The Cattail, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Shadows Of The Cattail, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, February 21st, 2008

-related to post, Listening To Silence


-Additional links (as a result of more research after the post Comment thread):

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