MARKING THE MAGIC CIRCLE (1987)
A "declaration of identity and territory as personal as a journal... It is rich, various...striking."
This book speaks with an authentic voice, a placed voice... which makes it rare and useful.
-Thomas J. Lyon, Editor, Western American Literature
George Venn engages his native region with passion and clarity...
-William Kittredge, University of Montana
MARKING THE MAGIC CIRCLE EXCERPTS:
From the shapes of men's lives imparted by the places where they have experience, good writing comes.
--William Carlos Williams
Here, it is morning now. Long dreaming drifts have laid their curves high and deep across the roads. Public power is still off. Not even the mailman or the paper carrier will make it through today. White shifting skiffs of snow still move over the fields flowing like currents over riverbed. I build up the fire again and the stovepipe begins to ping, the drafts wheeze, the fly ash circles softly upward, then disappears. Water for coffee heats on the stove. But for the skittish wind, there is no movement outside. I wait at the desk. Suddenly, a red-shafted flicker lights among the ice-glazed branches of the apple tree and begins to peck its way into a frozen core. I watch that black half-moon on its breast as it pecks, stops, a black shining eye cast upward, then pecks again. In the frozen field, the horses wait for their oats and alfalfa and I see the shapes of two pheasants by their feeders -- guo gi picking up the smallest kernels of grain. Everyone still sleeps. I close the draft and damper on the stove. The dog has finished her morning dance and whine and is ready to go out.
At the open door, I see the Blue Mountains darkened with pine, the lower slopes open, white, smooth. I remember my earliest crayon-scribbled pictures on that heavy paper from grade school: huge white mountains in the background, a foreground of trees on green hills, blue creek coming down, and in the center always a gabled house, smoke scrawling gray out the chimney, a few stick figures with hats. I think of my grandfathers and grandmothers in their coastal graves in the shadows of Mt. Rainier, of my wife and children in their inland beds asleep, of the Columbia waiting for all our lives to melt as this snow will soon. I go inside to the silence, surrounded by the old wood walls with openings to the light, openings leaking wind....
A region is a microcosm -- a magic circle centered on home. The values generated by that circle are many, but I have limited myself here to three -- confidence, wholeness, and intimacy. For me, the authentic map of the universe is composed of these microcosms -- a mosaic of specific human constructs crossing all abstract political, geographic, economic, and racial boundaries. This view of region as microcosm stands in contrast to the more dangerous metrocentric fantasy of region as province. When defined as province, region becomes an edge in a far remote place, a fragment of some empire with a far-away center. When the magic circle is defined as province, local life can be drained of significance, since only those who live at The Center are real. Thus, local intimacy, confidence, and wholeness are threatened. In contrast, region as microcosm enables an artist living anywhere -- including the Northwest -- to get work done, to achieve character, belief, aesthetic, purpose, and style. Region as province imposes a centralizing political and demographic metaphor which can artificially elevate the significance of artists who live in political or population centers, and artificially dismiss significant artistic achievements that are not centralized by non-artistic forces. An artist who chooses not to live in political or population centers, who chooses not to become an alien to the oldest and most immediate sources of human nurture, who chooses not to become a victim of nationalism -- such an artist must assert the region as microcosm -- this locust flowering, that hive by the Columbia -- and where do you live? (written winter, 1986)
A GALLON OF HONEY IN GLASS
ISBN: 0-87071-352-3, $19.95 (hard cover); 0-87071-353-1, (paperback) $12.95.
Data: 208 pages (6" x 9"), acknowledgments, seven Jan Boles photos, bio sketch.
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