D. Nurkse on Love In The Last Days

The Story of Tristan and Iseult Revisited

D. Nurske is the author of eleven poetry collections, most recently Love in The Last Days from Knopf. He’s the recipient of the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He’s also taught at Rikers Island, served on the board of Amnesty International USA, and translated medieval poetry. He’s on the faculty at Sarah Lawrence College. Love in The Last Days is a series of poems based on the legend of Tristan and Iseult.

Mary: Welcome to People Who Make Books Happen, Dennis. The legend of Tristan and Iseult reverberated throughout the Middle Ages. It’s one of the most romantic stories ever told. I’ve loved it since I first read Chevrefoil by the medieval poet Marie de France, so I was delighted to discover that it was the subject of your new collection of poetry Love in The Last Days. Before we begin, could you please give us a brief summary of the story of Tristan and Iseult, so people who are not familiar with the legend can understand what we’re talking about .

Dennis: Thanks so much, Mary. There are a thousand versions. Some have a happy ending! Here are the barest bones: Tristan is entrusted to fetch Iseult from Ireland to marry his liege, King Mark of Cornwall. On the boat home they fall in love. They commit adultery at Mark’s court and escape to the wilderness; eventually they separate, Tristan to exile, Iseult to her destiny to be a queen. They are reunited at the point of death.

Mary: The poems in Love in The Last Days are filled with a richness, complexity, depth, and lyricism that is truly extraordinary. What inspired you to write them. Or put another way, what prompted you to do a new version of the legend of Tristan and Iseult?

Dennis: The story of Tristan and Iseult is wildly subversive. At one of the most hierarchical moments in history, the bond between lovers suddenly emerges as a force—stronger than church, state, piety, or public opinion. The plot pokes at the underpinnings of patriarchy—what if love and obedience are radically different? I’ve always been fascinated by the lovers’ escape to the wilderness; as if the impenetrable forest stood for the untamed part of the mind.

Mary: What research did you do for these poems? What sources did you consult?

Dennis: There are lovely books in English: The Romance of Tristan and Iseult as compiled by Joseph Bedier, and Tristan: with the surviving fragment of the “Tristan of Thomas” as compiled by Gottfried von Strassburg. The stories in the Arthurian cycle are bedrock, and there are troubadour versions; René Nelli writes about troubadour eroticism. Jacques le Goff has an essay called “Levi Strauss in Broceliande: Brief Analysis of a Courtly Romance.” Beautifully specific documentation can be found in John Cummin’s The Hawk and the Hound: The Art of Medieval Hunting. Jean Rimmer has researched the Irish harp. The French series Bibliotheque de la Pleiade has a terrific one-volume compilation of sources. My own book is inscribed to the memory of Marc Bloch, an expert on the feudal imagination, who died under torture at the hands of the Gestapo.

Mary: Could you put the legend of Tristan and Iseult in a historical context for us. What did it have to do with Courtly Love. How did the Medieval Church view it? Did it find a popular audience?

Dennis: The legend began before the era of Courtly Love, but it was adapted (or adapted itself? It has a mind of its own.) and became a vehicle for troubadour ideas. The Church hated it. Yes, it found a popular audience—but my own ancestors were peasants a generation or two ago; who knows how deeply into the commons it reached?

Mary: How did you change the legend?

Dennis: I want my version to be psychological—it’s not clear that spells and monsters aren’t just the shadows of desperate love. But I’d better steer clear of hubris. The originals, pre-Freudian though they are, are full of double entendre and the agency of the unconscious. Stories teach that illusion is part of love—you can’t wish it away. When you’re close enough, the other’s face is as invisible as your own. My version has no patience for the values of aristocracy and purity. Sometimes it’s funny.

Mary: How did you change the main characters?

Dennis: Well, Mary, the original characters morph according to who’s telling the tale and when. Tristan and Iseult are open to interpretation. I really just tried to hear in my mind the voices of two young lovers, destined to become old lovers, baffled at any given moment, but who complete each other strangely over the arc of a lifetime.

Mary: You depict Iseult as a woman of great strength. Did you find hints of this in the Medieval versions of the legend, or is her emergence as a powerful woman new to the story?

Dennis: It’s one of the exciting things about the original story. The troubadour versions are strikingly empowering to women characters—and there are women who themselves are poets or troubadours, including Marie de France and the evocatively named Dangereuse de Chastelreaux. There’s a transformation of gender relations. Of course, most it may take place mostly in literature, and be susceptible to the “pedestal” critique. But it’s radical for any time.

Mary: You say in the Preface that your version “takes places in an imaginary past known as The Last Days.” Why did you call this past “imaginary” and why did you name it “The Last Days?” Is this a reference to the Book of Revelation? A veiled warning of the approach of a contemporary apocalypse? Please tell us more about The Last Days. [Read more…]

Join Mary Mackey and Sharon Coleman at Mythos Gallery in Berkeley

Friday September 22, 2017, Berkeley, CA: Mary Mackey reads with poet Sharon Coleman at the Berkeley Mythos Gallery where the theme is Animal Spirits.  Mary will read from her novel The Village of Bones plus new poems from her forthcoming collection The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams:New and Selected (to be published by Marsh Hawk Press in Fall 2018). TIME: 5:30 PM. PLACE: Mythos Fine Arts and Artifacts, 1790 Shattuck Avenue (at Delaware) in Berkeley CA.

VILLAGE OF BONES A Kindle Monthly Deal Through September 2017

News Flash: Amazon.com has chosen The Village of Bones to be one of its Kindle Monthly Deals for September 2017. CLICK HERE before October 1 to buy a Kindle copy of The Village of Bones for only $1.99.

The Village of Bones: Sabalah’s Tale

Written as a Prequel to Mary’s best-selling Earthsong Series, The Village of Bones is now the first novel in the series. (The Earthsong novels in chronological order are: The Village of Bones: Sabalah’s Tale, The Year the Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring )

hi res b of v front cover March 21 2016

“Mary Mackey’s The Village of Bones, gives us the vivid adventures of The Clan of the Cave Bear, the magic of The Mists of Avalon and Lord of the Rings, and the beauty of Avatar. Filled with the belief that love drives out fear, it contains stunning twists that will leave you wanting more.”
            Dorothy Hearst, author of the Wolf Chronicles

A perilous journey, a stunning prophecy, a dangerous love that could destroy humankind: In 4386 B.C., a young priestess named Sabalah conceives a magical child with a mysterious stranger named Arash. Sabalah names the child Marrah. This child will save the Goddess-worshiping people of Europe from marauding nomad invaders called Beastmen, but only if her mother can keep her alive long enough to grow up. Warned by the Goddess in a vision of the coming invasion, Sabalah flees west with Arash to save her baby daughter, only to discover that she is running into the arms of her worst enemies. In the dark forests of northern Europe, other human-like species left over from the Ice Age still exist. 


Censored Shakespeare by Pamela Rafael Berkman

Today novelist Pamela Rafael Berkman shares a post with us at People Who Make Books Happen. Her essay Censored Shakespeare first appeared on her website at pamelarafaelberkman.com on July 24, 2017.

Censored Shakespeare

By Pamela Rafael Berkmam

Public Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar has finished its run in New York’s Central Park, despite the withdrawal of support by some sponsors and the disruptions on June 16 and June 18.

Within seconds of the first stage rush, institutions and individuals worldwide raced to defend Shakespeare. My favorite hashtag, #ShakespeareSunday, was all a-Twitter. But during his lifetime Shakespeare would have had no one to so staunchly defend his right to free speech.

Censorship was a fact of life for him and all of his fellow Tudor writers. Not market-based shutting up, like getting a book contract cancelled, but real, true, hard government censorship, the defiance of which carried penalties like imprisonment in seriously horrible places, getting a hand cut off in the public marketplace, and grisly forms of execution.

Shakespeare’s colleague Ben Jonson spent several months in the Marshalsea political prison for co-writing a play called The Isle of Dogs (we’ll never know why – it’s lost). And the only example we have of Shakespeare’s handwriting (we think) are some notes on a play by someone else that he was script-doctoring, with several other playwrights, to make it more palatable to official censor Edmund Tilney, Master of Revels.

Tilney’s job included reviewing every play to be performed in the London-area playhouses. The play was The Book of Sir Thomas More, and the scene in question depicted a mob rioting (some would say protesting) in London.

In the end Shakespeare and his co-writers couldn’t revise the scene enough for Tilney’s approval. Tilney ordered that any representation of the riots be described in narration instead of shown on stage, adding ominously, “not otherwise at your own perils.”

The most well known example of Shakespeare and his friends being placed directly in danger by his writing involved the play Richard II, which contains the “deposition scene” in which Richard is stripped of his crown. Conspirators in the Earl of Essex’s doomed 1601 rebellion paid Shakespeare’s company, the Chamberlain’s Men, to perform it publicly the day before they tried to wrest the throne from Elizabeth I. Company member Augustine Phillips’ later testimony is priceless.


Richard II handing over the crown as seen in “The Hollow Crown” (Photo: provided by BBC)

The Chamberlain’s Men, Phillips said, told the Essex rebels that the play “was so old and so long out of use as that they should get no company at it.” They had, he said, heartily wished to put on “some other play.” They only did it because Essex’s men offered them 40 shillings over the going rate.

The company was cleared of any deliberate wrongdoing, but they must have been terrified.

In Elizabethan England the ideas in our First Amendment were unheard of, undreamed of: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Considering what Shakespeare managed to leave us even working under the government restrictions placed on him, imagine what he might have done had he enjoyed the protections of the First Amendment. And today, worldwide, what genius is silenced, never to be heard or remembered, because he or she does not?

Note: For more details on the events I’ve mentioned here, try Park Honan’s Shakespeare: A Life, Oxford University Press, 1998.

All The News That’s Fit To Make You Smile Summer 2017

An audio book, new poems, getting happy, and other good news from Mary Mackey. Free Copy of Mary’s Summer 2017 Newletter

Dear Friends,
It’s summer, which means it’s time to get out in the sunshine and enjoy life. Other media outlets have all the bad news covered, so starting today, my quarterly newsletter is only going to bring you good news. I think we all need a refuge from stress, so I’m making this a place to kick back and be happy. I want you to look forward to seeing my newsletter in your inbox four times a year; and I want it to contain not just my good news, but yours too. So please send me your news and scroll down for some cheer.
Less Stress More Happiness
One of my favorite ways to get happy is to sit on the bank of the American River and watch the Mergansers, who look like brown ducks with 1950’s flat tops. Mergansers are natural clowns, and they almost always make me laugh.

Send me your favorite ways to get happy and I will post them in my next newsletter.

Start your day off right by reading some great poetry in the most recent issue of the Marsh Hawk Review where you will find work by Maxine Hong Kingston, Jane Hirshfield, Marge Piercy, Dennis Nurkse, Rusty Morrison, and many more wonderful poets.
My News: The Village of Bones will be coming out as an audible book in late summer or early fall. Meanwhile, I’m busily writing and revising poems for my New and Selected collection to be published by Marsh Hawk Press in Fall 2018. Right now I’m calling it The Citizens of Pompeii Shelter in Place, but that may change. By the next time you read my newsletter, I probably will have decided on the final title.

In addition, I’m putting the finishing touches on a new YA novel written from a dog’s point of view. I’ve never tried this before, but living inside a dog is more fun than I can describe. This is why you are seeing a lot of dog-related tweets if you follow me on Twitter.

I’m also starting to outline another novel in the Earthsong Series, continuing the story of Marrah and Sabalah and the Goddess-worshiping cultures of Prehistoric Europe. I have never ceased to be fascinated and inspired by a people who lived peacefully in harmony with the earth and one another for thousands of years.

Read my inspiring People Who Make Books Happen interview with Susan Kelly-Dewitt  On Becoming A Poet.”
News From Friends
Congratulations to: Dawn McGuire for her collection of poetry American Dream With Exit Wound; Joe Cottonwood, who has had three poems published by NatureWriting; Jane Hirshfield who has a new poem in the June 22 issue of The New York Review of Books; Joan Gelfand whose poetic film The Ferlinghetti School of Poetics has won a Certificate of Merit at the iASD Juried Art show; Renate Stendhal for her memoir Kiss Me Again, Paristhe Sacramento Poetry Center whose archives have been acquired by California State University, Sacramento; novelist, poet, and essayist Janice Eidus whose essay “How Poetry Saved My Life” was published in Purple Clover; Robert Gibb, winner of the 2016 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize for his collection After; poet Basil King for his collection History Now;  poet Patricia Carlin for her collection Second Nature; poet Burt Kimmelman for his collection Abandoned Angel; poet Edward Foster for his collection Sowing the Wind: A Requiem in the Modern World; Sandy McIntosh for his poetic memoir A Hole in the Ocean: A Hampton’s Apprenticeship; poet Andrena Zawinski for her collection Landings great weather for MEDIA poets Michelle Whittaker for the forthcoming publication of her collection Surge and John Paul Davis for his collection Crown Prince of Rabbits; poet Lucille Lang Day for her children’s book The Rainbow Zoo (Illustrated by Gina Aoay Orosco);  the women of We’Moon for their Solstice Blessing and their 2017 Anthology/Datebook StarDust ; JD Moyer for winning the Omnidawn 2016 Fabulist Fiction Chapbook Prize for his manuscript The Icelandic Cure,and poet/activist/scholar Judy Grahn for winning the 2017 Northern California Book Reviewers Fred Cody Award For Lifetime Achievement and Service.

Please send me your news so I can put it in my next newsletter. You don’t have to be a poet, novelist, film maker, artist, or musician. Good news is good news. And don’t miss the Northern California Book Awards on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 when I will be presenting the Cody Award to Judy Grahn.

Upcoming Events

Wednesday September 6, 2017, Oakland CA: Mary Mackey reads new poems from her forthcoming collection The Citizens of Pompeii Shelter in Place (Marsh Hawk Press, Fall 2018) as part of the Pandemonium Press series, which has recently relocated from the Spice Monkey to the wonderful Octopus  Literary Salon.  Time: 7 to 9 pm. Place: Octopus Literary Salon, 2101 Webster St #170, Oakland, CA 94612. Come to hear the poets  and sign up for the Open Mic.

Saturday September 23, 2017, Sebastopol, CA: Join Mary Mackey for the kick-off reading for Know Me Here – An Anthology of Poetry by Women, edited by Katherine Hastings. Poets in this incredible anthology include: Janine Canan, Maxine Chernoff, Gillian Conoley, Lucille Lang Day, Sharon Doubiago, Susan Kelly-DeWitt, Molly Fisk, Jane Hirshfield, Kathleen Lynch, Mary Mackey, Rusty Morrison, Gwynn O’Gara, Connie Post, Hannah Stein, and many more. How can you possible miss this event! TIME: 7 PM. PLACE: Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 282 S. High Street, Sebastopol, CA.

(More Events Coming Soon:  New York, San Francisco, and maybe Rio. Please stay tuned.)

To Mary Mackey’s complete schedule of readings and other events please CLICK HERE

Invite your friends to join us for good news four times a year. Here’s the link:

“All the news that’s fit to make you smile.”

“All the news that’s fit to make you smile.”

Now available for purchase as an e-book or trade paperback
The Village of Bones

A Prequel to Mary’s The Year The Horses Came.


Click for Resources for Educators
Mary Mackey’s website
Copyright © Mary Mackey, All rights reserved.


Susan Kelly-DeWitt on Becoming A Poet

Susan Kelly-DeWitt Kelly-DeWitt was born in San Francisco but spent most of her childhood in Hawaii before it was a state, living for several years on the grounds of an historic artists’ colony called Wailele. She moved back to Northern California in 1960. Kelly-DeWitt is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow and the author of Spider Season, The Fortunate Islands and nine previous print and online collections . Her work has been widely published in numerous journals and anthologies, both at home and abroad, and has been featured at Wordstock, and on Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. She is also an exhibiting visual artist.

Mary: Welcome to People Who Make Books Happen, Susan. Let’s start at the beginning: Why did you become a poet?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: Hard to know! My mother had a beautiful clothbound volume of Leaves of Grass. My father could recite The Iliad though he had only an eighth grade education. My parents also knew Don Blanding in Honolulu in the early 50’s, so I probably heard the word “poet” at a very young age. I was always a voracious reader but I never thought I could actually be a “real” writer or poet myself until I was in my twenties, in college, and read Plath. Having had a lot of trouble and tragedy in my life by then, Plath’s poems showed me there was a way to write about that.

Mary: How old were you when you wrote your first poem?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: I may have written some small silly ditties when I was a child but the first “real” poem I remember writing was when I was a freshman in high school.

Mary: What was it about?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: I had read A Tale of Two Cities and subsequently wrote a long poem–two or three pages in rhyme and meter–called “The Guillotine”, about a prisoner marching to his execution. The last lines were: “So spoke my head from its place unseen/ Where I left it, near the guillotine.” I always get a big laugh when I tell this story to high school students!

Mary: That’s hilarious. My first poem was about garbage collectors. So, which poets have influenced you?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: So many! In childhood/adolescence, Poe, Coleridge, Dickinson–though I never actually thought I could be a poet then. After that some of the biggest influences–where I read everything I could by and about–were Whitman and Dickinson; Blake and Yeats; Rilke; Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Ratushinskaya; Neruda; Bishop; Kenyon, Oliver and Dove; Hillman and Gluck; Kinnell; Merton; Heaney and Boland; Mistral; Milosz; Rumi; Transtromer; Levertov (who was also my mentor when I was a Stegner), and Plath, of course. The three Wrights have been very important to me also–C.D., Charles, and James Wright especially. Finally, and hugely, my early mentors and now dear old friends, Dennis Schmitz and Sandra McPherson.

Mary: What inspires you to write a poem? How do you get the initial idea?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: Reading other poets always inspires me–I enter into a conversation with them and start replying, connecting associatively via lines that come into my head and make it to the page. Also, when I take my daily walk I frequently begin to get a line. When that happens, I keep it going for as long as I can, memorizing what comes, keeping each line as an evocative unit, in terms of both rhythm and meaning, and push it as far as I can. As I said in another recent interview, I also “see” the poem as a shape in space–a word sculpture. (Now that we have cell phones I sometimes pause to type out the lines on my Notes app.) When I come home I start to work on what I have. Sometimes the poem simply finds me–as one did a day or two ago, when I walked by jasmine vines in bloom and inhaled the perfume–I have been writing and revising it ever since.

Mary: What are your personal poetics? In other words, what are you trying to do with regard to both form and content when you write a poem?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: I am a big believer in Denise Levertov’s “Theory of Organic Form”–that the poem must find it’s own shape/life, life-force as it evolves on the page. I believe this even when I am trying to write a villanelle or a sonnet. For me each line (as Levertov said) must exist as “an evocative unit of thought.” I also want to write something that will connect across time, space, class, culture–something that celebrates or articulates or witnesses for others in some small way–and/or something that helps someone through its beauty or use, or both.

Of course, as Frost said: “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” The poem has to teach me something, take me somewhere new–the poet as detective, solving the mystery. The poet as photographer, developing film in the darkroom.

Mary: You’re the author of nine Chapbooks and two full-length collections of poetry, beginning with A Camellia for Judy published by Frith Press in 1998. How has your poetry changed over the last twenty years?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: You know, Mary–I’m not sure that I am the best judge of this. I did try, in Spider Season, to tackle some new subjects and to feel my way to a different kind of poem-shape. I think in the early years I was still discovering my own voice, and I hope–especially with Spider Season–that I have now found it. That said, I have always tried to include poems that address history–personal, political, social–in some way. I don’t think this has changed. The natural world and the visual image have always been important to my poetic vision and self (probably stemming in large part from growing up in Hawaii and living for several early years in a defunct artists’ colony surrounded by art and a tropical rainforest)–I’d like to think I have gotten better as an observer of those worlds, but I am not sure that I have. I’ll have to listen to the critics for that.

Mary: You just mentioned your most recent collection of poetry, Spider Season,” published in 2016 by Cold River Press. What does the title symbolize? How did you arrive at it?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: Coming up with the title was largely intuitive. I woke one night with that title in my head. I had written quite a few new poems during the previous months (known as the “spider season”) and I had encountered numerous spider webs on my morning walks. Spider also means “mother” in dream symbolism. Since this is the first full-length collection I have published since my mother’s death, I’m sure that had something to do with the intuitive part. The book also casts a wide web of connections for me–parts of my life that I have not written about before.

Mary: What are the three most important poems in Spider Season? Why?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: Well, first let me say: I think we know the writer/artist is often the least qualified to judge her/his own work! That said, the three I might choose from Spider Season now would be “The Subject of All Poems is the Clock” and “First Light.” Number Three would be a tie between “Interrogative” and “Don’t Forget.” I would choose these because they all tackle the large existential questions, and some of them also witness the political and environmental crises that loom over our planet’s future.

Mary: Do you have any other new work you’d like to mention, or any new books in the works?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: I do. A third full-length manuscript is making the rounds–it is titled The Moon Bee. I also recently had a group of poems published online at Mudlark. They are poems that give voice to some painful experiences I have not written about so explicitly before. 

Mary: You are a visual artist as well as a poet. How do these two aspects of your creative life influence one another?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: Well, I have often been told that I am a very “visual” poet–that my imagery allows the reader to “zoom in” and focus. Over the years I have taught several workshops where we explored the painter/photographer’s techniques and language as useful tools for the poetry writing process. My life as a visual artist has taught me to “see”–to attend, remove the distance between myself and the subject; it has also helped me (especially watercolor painting) to recognize the fortunate accident, and to know (usually!!) when to stop.

Mary: How has your involvement in the Sacramento literary community influenced your work?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: Stanley Kunitz once wrote: “Poetry withers without fellowship.” Our literary community casts a wide web of friendship, support and creative energy. Getting involved with the Sacramento Poetry Center in the late 70’s brought me into that web, and I have been there ever since. As one of the early members, readers, program directors, workshop facilitators, and editors of the literary magazine, I found my place in the world, and I continue to treasure every moment spent in that nurturing environment which does not differentiate between “inside” and “outside” the academy. The word “community” (as defined by Webster’s) says it: a unified body of individuals–and so it is, and so we are.
Mary: If you could ensure that one of your poems would survive to be read 500 years from now, which poem would it be, and why have you chosen it?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: Tough question! That said, “Apple Blossoms” would be my choice today because I think that it captures the struggle for survival, the beauties and complexities of the human dilemma in a very plain-spoken way. Kooser used it on his American Life in Poetry column, and I know that a lot of people have connected with it since then. I think it would still relate to a reader as long as there are people, long winter nights, bees and spring blossoms. Of course with Trump’s position on climate change, 500 years may be far too optimistic.

Mary: “Apple Blossoms” is one of my favorites too. Here it is, accompanied by your painting “Pink Leaves.”

Apple Blossoms

One evening in winter
when nothing has been enough,
when the days are too short,

the nights too long
and cheerless, the secret
and docile buds of the apple

blossoms begin their quick
ascent to light. Night
after interminable night

the sugars pucker and swell
into green slips, green
silks. And just as you find

yourself at the end
of winter’s long, cold
rope, the blossoms open

like pink thimbles
and that black dollop
of shine called

bumblebee stumbles in.

                                Copyright © by Susan Kelly-DeWitt Kelly Dewitt 2001

Mary: Do you have any upcoming readings or classes? How can people get in touch with you?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: I am going to be teaching my Poet as Camera class in Stockton CA on June 24th as part of the University of the Pacific’s Creative Writing Conference . I will also be teaching a five month private workshop on hybrid forms in the fall. People can contact me via my website at: http://susankelly-dewitt.com/. My public email address is: skellydewitt@gmail.com.

As for readings–I just took part, as the Featured Poet for 2017,  in Solano Community College’s annual launch-reading for the Suisun Valley Review, and I am happy to be part of the upcoming launch at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts on September 23rd for Know Me Here – An Anthology of Poetry by Women, edited by Katherine Hastings. Hopefully you and I will be reading together, Mary, since you are also in the anthology.

Mary: Thank you, Susan. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. I’m looking forward to reading the poems in The Moon Bee.

Join this  People Who Make Books Happen conversation with Susan Kelly-DeWitt. You are warmly invited to leave a comment. People Who Make Books Happen is where the writers hang out.

For writing advice; a sneak peek at Mary’s most recent novel The Village of Bonesthe latest news; course syllabi; resources for Women’s Studies, Women’s Visionary Fiction, Women’s Visionary Film, Women’s Visionary Poetry, and Advanced Composition and more information about writing and teaching, you are invited to visit my website homepage and click on the tabs where you will also find a number of stunning photos of Prehistoric Goddesses.



Healing the Earth, Healing Ourselves: 7 New Books


Vicki Noble, co-creator with Karen Vogel of the Motherpeace Tarot Deck, recommends seven new books to heal us and give us hope.

A Writer’s Journey Guest Post:

Vicki Noble:  I have seen so many wonderful books come out in the last year or so—many of them done by respected friends of mine—that I decided to share them with you. Given the state of things in our materialistic and celebrity-focused culture, it’s rare that such out-of-the-box books are even published these days, let alone marketed and distributed properly.

1.  Starhawk’s wonderful visionary novel, City of Refuge, the happily-awaited sequel to her earlier book, The Fifth Sacred Thing. I’ve read them both more than once and recommend them as heart-warming, thoughtful, intelligent, and incredibly hopeful versions of future possible realities in which the power of nonviolent, magical consciousness becomes contagious and carries the day. Starhawk is in the process of getting these novels made into movies, which would be fabulous. May it be so!

City of refuge, Starhawk

2. Mary Mackey has come out with a “prequel” to her earlier feminist trilogy of books in the Earthsong Series, based on the impeccable archaeological research of Marija Gimbutas into ancient prehistoric Goddess civilizations of Old Europe. Mary’s newest book in this series is called The Village of Bones: Sabalah’s Tale, and it’s a page-turner.

3. Charlie Bensinger has released a futuristic trilogy of quirky, suspenseful novels called Radical Option, Beyond Fire, and Primal Source—all part of a series he calls People of the Change—that I have totally enjoyed reading. I’m not going to spoil the intrigue here by telling you the plot, but trust me, it speaks directly to our current global situation and offers up unique and imaginative solutions to world problems and dilemmas.


4. Craig Comstock released a book late last year called Gift of Darkness, in which (as I said in a blurb for the book) he “captured the poignancy of a young, frightened human being” faced with what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil” as a teen in Amsterdam during the terrible period of the Nazis. It has eerie similarities to our own time.


5. In a whole other vein, the Goddess movement’s own Ruth Barrett has compiled Female Erasure, a brilliant anthology of essays by authors speaking discerningly about what they perceive as the “dogma of transgender politics” in our culture at the moment. In a time when this controversial subject has become so heated and the debates so downright violent—often delivered with highly-charged sound bites, rather than the depth the subject deserves, it’s a relief to have this whole book of thoughtful analyses from diverse feminist positions and backgrounds.


6. Starr Goode’s brand new book, hot off the press, shares decades of her research into the enigmatic and archetypal image of the Sheela na gig (or what Miriam Robbins Dexter has called Female Sacred Display). The exquisite hardcover book is called Sheela na gig: The Dark Goddess of Sacred Power. Well written and beautifully illustrated!


7. Also, in memory of Lydia Ruyle, I’d like to recommend her final book about the marvelous banners she created to honor Goddesses all over the world; Lydia’s banners have graced the walls of temples, festival halls, and museums around the world. This book, Goddesses of the Americas, presents images, stories and mythologies of Goddesses she found in North, Central, and South America. A fine memorial!

8.And last but not least, I hope, I have included the anthology compiled by me and Miriam Robbins Dexter and published at the end of last year, Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement: Elders and Visionaries; the book features the personal stories of many of the women who were there from the beginning. We wanted to share some of the vision, originality, and vitality that emerged spontaneously in the late 1970s and early 1980s to became a global Goddess movement.

Foremothers Cover

 I wish all the other progressive authors out there the very best in getting your books into print and out into the world. Goddess knows we need inspiration in these times!   Vicki Noble


Using Trance To Get Ideas For Novels And Poems

Mining Your Unconscious Using A Simple Trance Technique

   Sunset Sacramento on American River Your unconscious is packed with ideas, metaphors, visions, plots, dreams, colors, characters, emotions—in short, everything you need to write a great novel or collection of poems. But how do you get to it? How do you step out of the social agreement we call “reality,” and dip into this incredibly rich resource?

You could go to sleep and try to mine your dreams, but even if you dreamed an entire novel, the moment you woke up, you would forget most of it within seconds, because you hadn’t processed the ideas into your long term memory. Worse yet, when you dream, you are not in control, so you can’t do specific things like talk to one of your characters or work out a specific plot problem. Granted, some people manage lucid dreaming, but lucid dreaming is not a practical writing technique for a number of reasons. For example, you cannot always go to sleep when you need to.

Many years ago, I started looking for a technique that would allow me to be asleep and awake at the same time. What I came up with, after much trial and error, was a form of creative trance that allows me to delve into my unconscious whenever I want to, get the material I need for my poems and novels, bring that material up to my waking reality, remember it, and write it down.

Developing this technique wasn’t easy. Besides relying on my own imagination, I drew on many sources such as self-hypnosis, theta cycle sessions, neurophysiology, Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, and the Surrealist technique of Automatic Writing.  As you might expect, I had many failures, but in the end I came up with a deceptively simple technique, which has proved extremely effective. Since I taught myself how to use creative trance, I have written many novels, collections of poetry, and screenplays. Better yet, I have avoided writers block.

I’ve used my creative trance technique weekly, sometimes daily, for many years. As with all things that are visionary and out of the range of ordinary consciousness,  it can’t be completely described in words, only experienced. So, since I cannot sit down with you and personally guide you through the process step by step, I am going to give you a chance to get a feel for it by taking you into the heart of  my creative process as I worked on my most recent novel The Village of Bones.

The Village of Bones is Historical Fiction which has visionary elements, but even in my novels which are purely Historical Fiction (such as my bestseller A Grand Passion, the story of three generations of women involved in ballet), I created most of the original storyline in a voluntarily induced creative trance.

Unlike A Grand Passion, The Village of Bones presented a special problem. On one hand, it was meticulously researched historical fiction firmly based on archaeological evidence, yet at the same time, it was set in Prehistoric Europe in Goddess-worshiping cultures that were filled with myths, visions, and prophecies.

With this contradiction in mind, I put my phone in Airplane Mode, sat down in a comfortable chair, picked up a pen (I find computers get in the way), opened my notebook, closed my eyes, took several deep breaths, and counted backwards to ten, imagining as I did so that I was walking down a flight of stairs. By the time I got to the bottom, I was in a light trance. The word “light” is important. I was neither awake nor asleep. Instead, I was poised on the threshold between my conscious mind and my unconscious mind, ready to move in either direction.  

On this particular day, I had some work planned. Sabalah, my main character, was in big trouble. She was caught in a storm, her boat had turned over, and she was drowning. As she struggled to stay afloat, she going to have a vision of the Sea Goddess that might or might not be a hallucination. There were no surviving statues of this particular Neolithic Sea Goddesses as far as I knew, so my task for this afternoon was to envision the Sea Goddess so I could describe her.

I started with the Goddess’ name which I had created the previous day: “Amonah, Amonah, Amonah,” I silently chanted. ”Come to me”. A vague, shadowy form began to materialize behind my eyelids.  

Before I go on, I want to be clear about what was happening. As I thought the word “Amonah,” I didn’t believe I was conjuring up a real spirit, channeling a mystical force, or having a religious experience. I believed, and still believe, that  I was simply unlocking the resources of my own consciousness and my own imagination using the very practical tool of creative trance. I don’t claim to know where these visions come from, but I am convinced that under the right conditions,  anyone can have them.

The form grew brighter and more distinct. I saw a woman walking toward me across the waves. Walking on water. Interesting. Since question/answer is the key to this technique, I settled down and began to ask myself questions.

“What color is her hair?” I asked myself. “Black, brown, blonde?” Suddenly the word “seaweed” came into my mind. Instantly, the woman’s hair turned green.

“What kind of jewelry is she wearing? Diamonds, topaz, garnets?” No, she’s wearing pearls, and something else, something reddish, something like . . . coral!

“What color are her eyes?” For a moment her eyes shifted back and forth between brown and green. Then, suddenly they glowed.

“Skin color?” All colors. No colors. She’s a Goddess. She is all of us.

“What’s she wearing?” Not skinny jeans for sure. (Odd thoughts sometimes interrupt the flow of the trance). Long dress. Yes. She’s wearing a long dress. Wave-like. Blue of course like the sea.

“What does she smell like? Wind, salt, kelp?” Like flowers.  She smells like flowers. “What kind of flowers?” Roses.

“How much does she weigh?” She weighs nothing. She’s a spirit.

For a long time, I sat there asking specific questions and waiting for answers most of which came in the form of wordless images. For some reason, I never could figure out how tall She was. My unconscious wouldn’t give that one up. But by now, the Sea Goddess Amonah looked real to me. I could see Her distinctly right down to the coral rings on Her toes.

Slowly I began to count backwards from ten to one, moving out of the trance as I climbed back up the stairs toward waking consciousness. On every step, I paused and made myself visualize Amonah again, and  I commanded  myself: “Remember. Remember.”

This final command to “remember,” is perhaps the most important part of a creative trance. If I couldn’t carry a complete image of Amonah back into the waking world, I’d have to start all over again.

When I got to ten, I opened my eyes just wide enough to see my notebook. Grabbing my pen before the last bits of trance faded away, I quickly wrote everything down paying no attention to grammar, spelling, or logic. I even wrote down the silly bit about the skinny jeans.

The result was not something I could use immediately. What you get out of your own unconscious is raw material. After creativity comes craft. So over the course of the next year, I polished this description of Amonah. Now I worked wide-awake, using all the techniques of novel-writing that I had learned over the years. I read the passage out loud over and over again. Searched for better words. Took out commas and put them in again. Here is the result which appears in Chapter One of The Village of Bones:

A woman emerged from the wall of crashing waves and walked across the sea toward Sabalah. Sabalah abruptly stopped crying and stared at the woman, stunned. This was impossible! . . .The woman kept walking, stepping over the waves as if they were furrows in a field of wheat. Her flowing dress was blue as a summer sea; her hair long and green, twined with seaweed and pearls. Her skin was dark and light at the same time, her eyes so bright, they glowed like the last flash of the sun when it falls into the sea at midsummer. . . . A sweet scent suddenly filled the air like the perfume of roses blown across water.

“Don’t be afraid,” the woman said. “I am Amonah, Goddess of the Sea,” and water is my path. I can walk above or beneath it as I wish.

Sitting down beside Sabalah, Amonah let Her feet dangle in the water. They were bare except for toe rings of rose-colored coral. She must have weighed nothing, because the end of the mast didn’t tilt the way it would have it a flesh-and-blood human being had sat there.

     The Village of Bones was created from scores of similar visions, as were all the poems I wrote that year, and even part of one of the screenplays which I co-wrote with director Renée de Palma.

Using creative trance is a gentle, pleasant way to create the raw materials for a work of fiction. It is not like meditation because your goal is not transcendence. It is not like many forms of self-hypnosis because you are not trying to lose weight, stop smoking, or change your behavior in any way. It is not like prayer, because you are not seeking a closer relationship with God. Creative trance is a tool, a key if you will, that lets you unlock the riches you already have stored in your own unconscious.

Yet its power should not be underestimated. So let me leave you with a warning: If you decide to go deeply into your own unconscious, you have to be ready to deal with what you find there. Creative trance is not therapy. If you are upset, unhappy, depressed, or anxious, wait until you have a calm mind and specific writing goals and can set firm limits on what you will accept from your unconscious.  

When you are in a creative trance, you should always be in control. If your Goddess appears before you with a hairdo made of snakes, you should be able to instantly turn those vipers into cobwebs and seaweed. Nothing you experience should harm you, scare you, or make you uncomfortable for more than a few seconds. A creative trance should be enjoyable from start to finish.

In The Village of Bones, the Goddess Earth gives Her people six commandments. The First Commandment is: “Live together in love and harmony.” The Sixth is: “Enjoy yourselves, for your joy is pleasing to Her.”

(An earlier version of this essay appeared as a Guest Post on the Visionary Fiction Alliance Blog on October 10, 2016).



Celebrate the Day of the Dead With Pandemonium Press

 Tuesday, November 1, 2016, Oakland CA at the Spice Monkey Cafe

PandemoniumPandemonium Press  celebrates the the Day of the Dead/Dia de Los Muertos with readings by poet/novelists Mary Mackey, Rafael Jesus Gonzalez, Cassandra Dallett, and Andrew O. Dugas, followed by an Open Mic. Curated by Leila Rae. Come listen to the featured readers and showcase your own work at the Open Mic. TIME: 6:30 pm. PLACE: Spice Monkey Cafe, 1268 Webster St., Oakland CA.


Celebrate With Me Nov 9 at Time Tested Books

party-animal-golden-retrieverDear Friends, Colleagues, Former Students, Poets, Writers, and Literary Party Animals, you’re invited to come to Time Tested Books on Wednesday, November 9th, at 7:00 pm for the Sacramento launch of the paperback edition of my new novel The Village of Bones.

Time Tested is hosting this event as a celebration of my many years as part of the Sacramento Literary Community, and some great local poets will be reading with me including Tim Kahl, Susan Kelly-DeWitt, Joshua McKinney, Trina L. Drotar and Mary Zeppa. Come celebrate with me even if you already have a copy of the novel, and at the same time celebrate one of Sacramento’s great independent bookstores. Bring your friends, your students, your family, your lovers, your Book Club members, and any cheerful-looking, literate strangers you may encounter on the way.

Date: Wednesday, November 9. Time: 7:00 to 8:30 pm
Address: Time Tested Books, 1114 21st St, Sacramento, CA 95811 (Between L and K)