Friday, January 25, 2013

G.M. MALLIET: THE JOYS OF BEING LOWBROW



DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm so pleased to have our Jungle Red friend G.M. Malliet here today. Her first Max Tudor book, Wicked Autumn, was a 2011 Dilys and Agatha nominee for Best Novel, a Shelf Awareness Reviewer's Choice: Top 10 Books of 2011, and an NBC TODAY show Summer Reads Pick by Charlaine Harris. A Fatal Winter, the second Max Tudor mystery, appeared in October 2012. Both Max Tudor books were listed by Library Journal as best mysteries of 2011 & 2012.

And I LOVE these books. I mean, who could resist stories set in the perfect English village of Nether Monkslip, or former MI5 spy turned Anglican priest Max Tudor? (Not to mention that Max is very good-looking, and I'd be willing to bet he was a rower... right, Gin?)

But one of the things I like most about Gin's books is her beautiful use of language, which is not, as she will explain, highbrow.
  
G.M MALLIET:  I long ago realized that my taste is not very highbrow. I go to plays but I don’t go to the opera, and while I enjoy classical music, I tend to divide it into categories: 1) Nice dinner music, and 2) Loud dinner music. It’s rare that I recognize a classical song or composer unless it’s something popular, like Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. I have, however, without meaning to, memorized the lyrics to almost every rock and roll song recorded in the seventies or eighties. And a lot of country-western songs, as well. 

When it comes to poetry, it is pretty much the same story. I tried to improve my mind by reading the classics, because I knew this was good for me, like broccoli, but very few of them stuck. In college, I did acquire an irrational attachment to Ernest Christopher Dowson’s gloomy poem with its long Latin title, a poem most people would simply call Cynara:  
Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;

Heavy stuff, eh? Love that exclamation point, which appears every time Cynara!’s name is mentioned. To this day I can recite much of this poem, but I suspect it is pretty lowbrow. It does have this one famous line:
I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,

So I gather Margaret Mitchell liked it, too.

And by the way, when Kate and Wills are choosing royal baby names, I think Cynara! should definitely be in the running.

Still, I’ve often thought anyone who strings together words for a living should have more than a nodding acquaintance with poetry. I figure someone like Ruth Rendell, a prolific crime writer whose style I admire to distraction, must somehow be finding the time to read poetry. 

One day on vacation, I picked up a book in a gift shop called Ten Poems to Change Your Life Again and Again by Roger Housden. That title must have come from one of the publisher’s more feverish marketing meetings—a poem to change your life? really?—but I did feel compelled to pick up the book and buy it. It turns out it is one of a series of books Housden has written, which is a good thing, because I quickly was hooked and will soon own the entire collection. These are actually compilations of ten short poems with Housden’s commentary on each one. Of the Again and Again book, Housden says, “Every one of the poems in this book has struck me a blow, a direct hit, each of them, into the heart of hearts.” I must say most of them struck me the same way. I don’t think anyone, for example, can read Marie Howe’s “What the Living Do,” a poem about her brother, without feeling the tears well up.
I am living, I remember you.
So after all these years, this one little book actually did change my life.

Because I have come to realize how important it is as a writer to be submerged not just in plots and prose, but in poetry as well.
Also to realize that if a song or a poem or a novel speaks to the reader for any reason, definitions like low- and highbrow just don’t apply.

I have to say that as an added bonus, one of the poems in this collection inspired the plot for the fourth Max Tudor mystery, the one I’m working on now.

Do you have a treasured poem, new or old?

And while we’re here, any thoughts on what Kate and Wills should name that baby?

 ~ Photo of Ernest Christopher Dowson from allpoetry.com
~ Photo of Ruth Rendell from Fantastic Fiction
         ~ Photo of G.M. Malliet by Joe Henson
 



DEBS:  Gin, I've ordered the first Housden book and hope to get it today. Thanks for the inspiration! I think I would buy them just for the wonderful covers.

And to inspire all our readers to come up with favorite poems AND royal baby names that top Cynara!, Gin is going to randomly pick 3 of our commenters to receive signed 1st editions of her books!

You can learn more about G.M. Malliet and Max Tudor at www.GMMalliet.com.

P.S. And our winner of NO MARK UPON HER is Lisa Alber! Lisa, if you'll email me at deb at deborahcrombie.com with your address, I'll send you a book.

 




40 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Oh, poetry . . . special, beautiful treasures. It’s impossible to pick just one . . . Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” . . . Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” . . . e.e. cummings’s “I Carry Your Heart With Me” . . . Maya Angelou’s “I Touched an Angel” . . . . words that speak to your soul.

Joan Emerson said...

::Sigh:: O
ne should always proof twice . . . the Maya Angelou poem should of course be "Touched by an Angel" . . . .

Gram said...

I like the above poems and many by Mary Oliver. We have a group of Senior Citizens that go to a poetry class at the high school and explore poetry for a semester with the Jrs.It's fun and interesting to see how the teens think. Much better than us at their age we decided. I also liked Wicked Autumn and am looking forward to A Fatal Winter. Dee

Edith Maxwell said...

No contest: Mary Oliver's The Summer Day. "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

I loved your first book, GM, and look forward to catching up on the next one!

Jack Getze said...

I went out with a girl named Cynara for a while back in the 60s, but I dumped her because she was always reciting poetry. Her favorite was something about "seeing the world in a grain of sand." Blake?

Hallie Ephron said...

I love poetry, too, but language schmanguage... What is so endearing about Gin's books is they are wickedly, slyly, seriously funny. If Jane Austen went on SNL...Sort of.

(Welcome to Jungle Red, Gin!)

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

That's a great description Hallie--now I'll have to order the poems and Gin's books!

I have snatches of poetry in my head like: "Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands..."

And Robert Frost's "I took the road less traveled by..."

I see that I desperately need to do some reading...

Karen in Ohio said...

Who better than a royal to have a name that includes a punctuation mark? For a boy, you know they're going to string a dozen names together. I hope one of them is Cholmondeley, pronounced "Chumley".

Robert Browning's "Rabbi Ben Ezra" starts out with one of the most romantic first stanzas ever. "Jabberwocky" is wickedly delicious.

Hallie, what an irresistible description of the Max Tudor books.

Kristopher said...

Thanks GM-

That poetry books sounds amazing. I will definitely have to check it out.

For some reason, I am always drawn to poetry that has a deeper message, either hidden, implied, or directly stated.

I still remember reading Marge Piercy's _The Rape Poem_ in freshman English and finally "getting it".

A sample stanza to show how powerful this poem would be to a young man:

"There is no difference between being raped
And going headfirst through a windshield
Except that afterwards you are afraid
Not of cars
But half the human race."

It is the same type of thing that I look for in my novel reading. Beautiful language that is simple yet powerful. I don't need to be dazzled by your vocabulary, I need to be transformed by your words.

And I will say that many of the Jungle Red writers (and you as well GM) accomplish that is spades.

Can't wait for the 4th Max book, GM, to see what poem inspired it. But we are lucky to have book 3 coming as well.

Laura DiSilverio said...

Put me with the herd of Mary Oliver lovers. I read one of her poems every morning.

As to baby names . . . I vote for something simple and traditional, but not monstrously old-fashioned. Mary, James . . . something like that. Since their names choices have to be "approved," I'm sure they'd never get away with a modern Jaden or Dylan or Sloane. I'm pretty sure Cynara! (with or without the punctuation) wouldn't make the cut. :-)

Darlene Ryan said...

I'll second Joan on Shel Silverstein. I also love Maya Angelou's "Life Doesn't Frighten Me At All." It's my mantra when I have to do something that makes me nervous.

"Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hail
Life doesn’t frighten me at all"

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hey, Gin! (Can you believe how long ago--or not!--we were first ogether at Mailice?)

ANd I do love poetry..but rushing now..more to come! Thanks for visiting Jungle Red..and see yo soon!

Linda Rodriguez said...

And my Jungle Reds darlings come back to poetry--right after I have pointed out to a number of my poetry friends that mystery writers love poetry and cited Jungle Reds as an example!

Linda Hogan writes exquisite poetry. I especially like her 2008 book, ROUNDING THE HUMAN. A naturalist, she writes in her poem, "The Heron," about rescuing an injured heron.

“You could kill me or help me.
I know you
and I have no choice
but to give myself up
and in whatever supremacy of this moment,
hold your human hand
with my bent claws."

Sherman Alexie has some wickedly funny poetry. In one of my favorites, "How to Write the Great American Indian Novel," he writes:

"All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms.
Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food.
The hero must be a half-breed, half white and half Indian, preferably
from a horse culture. He should often weep alone. That is mandatory.
If the hero is an Indian woman, she is beautiful. She must be slender
and in love with a white man. But if she loves an Indian man
then he must be a half-breed, preferably from a horse culture."

And he's just getting started on a hilarious send-up of novels and movies about Indians.

Carol Ann Duffy was the first female British poet laureate in 341 years! And my favorite of her poems is a wry, witty about-face on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, which posits Orpheus as a posturing poet and Eurydice as his long-suffering wife who welcomed death as an escape from his windbaggery and posing--

"in the one place you'd think a girl would be safe
from the kind of a man
who follows her round
writing poems
hovers about
while she reads them,
calls her his Muse,
and once sulked for a night and a day
because she remarked on his weakness for abstract nouns;"

--and uses his ego in tricking him to turn around and let her go back to the underworld and "a place where language stopped,
a black full-stop, a black hole
where words had to come to an end."

Just getting started so I'd better stop.

Gin, I loved Wicked Autumn! So glad you came to visit today. And I vote for any baby royal name but George. (I think Cynara! would be outstanding!)

Deb said...

Hallie, love your description of Gin's writing. Beautifully written, yes, but also wickedly, slyly funny.

And I can't wait to try to figure out which poem inspired the 4th Max Tudor, so by the time that book comes out I will have to collect ALL the Housden books.

On the royal arrival, whatever they name him/her, the baby shall be called "Binky" and only "Binky."

Sharon Short said...

What a fabulous post; I am now eager to ad Malliet's books to my to be read pile, as well as the poetry books referenced! The first poem that really struck me was "I Go Back to 1937" by Sharon Olds. I remember thinking, yes! yes! A truly cathartic moment. I read poetry on occasion; thanks for the reminder to read more!

Sharon Short said...

"I go back to May, 1937" by Sharon Olds is the first poem that really just, well, gobsmacked me upside the head. I thought, "yes, yes!" It was a true moment of catharsis, reading that poem for the first time. Now I want to add both Gin's books and the books of poetry in her blog to my TBR list!

Karen in Ohio said...

Linda, some days don't you feel something like Eurydice on Facebook? Mostly because of political nitwits?

Love that poem, and its premise.

Deb, I like it. Although Mr. Captcha is now suggesting "Brubby".

Leslie Budewitz said...

Oh, I love that Housden book, and all the bits quoted here. Gin, did I tell you I saw your books at Montana Book & Toy Co. in Helena with shelf talkers saying "staff favorite"? Yay!

Deb Romano said...

Because I am terrible at remembering titles of books, movies, poems, I will stick with the ones that I DO remember, mostly because I had to memorize a favorite poem in sixth grade(lo, these many years ago:-) My favorites were two by Longfellow: The Day Is Done, and A Psalm of Life, and one by Tennyson: Crossing the Bar. I think I ended up going with The Day Is Done. In recent years, I find I am fond of just about anything by Maya Angelou.

Linda, I am dying to get my hands on your collected poems!

Royal names: simple, old-fashioned names like Jane or Mary or Margaret - although I would not mind at all if they pick the name Deborah:-) And for a boy an old-fashioned name like John or Richard or Arthur. I doubt that there will be a royal baby named Brittany or Dustin!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Karen, yes, I've definitely felt like Duffy's Eurydice lately on Facebook and elsewhere.

Love all the poetry recomendations here.

Debs, with your Binky, you made me remember all the delightfully hilarious nicknames used in PG Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories. LOL

DebRo, you are so sweet. I'm sorry that my poetry books aren't available in ebook format. I know you read that way, as does Reine, for physical reasons. Poetry doesn't translate well to ebooks yet. It screws with the linebreaks, and a good poet lives or dies by her linebreaks. Send me your mailing address at lindalynettrodriguez (at) gmail (dot) com, and I'll send you a hard copy. They're paperback and not thick, so you might be able to read it without hurting your hands/arms.

Lark said...

I love Ms. Malliet's books. They're witty, slyly funny, yet somehow quietly compassionate -- not to mention that they're also well-plotted mysteries!

As for poetry, I fell in love with Shakespeare in 11th grade, and with John Donne as a sophomore in college, so I suppose my tastes in poetry are rather old-fashioned. But I have other favorites as well: Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening", some of T. S. Eliot's Practical Cats poems, Dylan Thomas's "A Child's Christmas in Wales" (which, though not strictly poetry, reads like it), a few of Dickinson's poems, Elizabeth Barret Browning's "How Do I Love Thee?"...

Clearly I need to expand my horizons and read some modern poetry (other than Wallace Stevens, whom I read in college.) From the quotes and comments here, Mary Oliver and the Housden book look like great places to start -- thank you for the recommendations!

Fran said...

Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Dirge Without Music" gets me every time because it's so defiant. I love it.

Pat said...

I used to know "Jabberwocky" by heart. And we had to memorize "under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands" back in 6th grade. I'm not too much of a poetry reader, but I remember being destroyed by a poem in college. I believe it was called "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner." Very short, very moving, horribly real.
On a lighter note I also love the idiotic nicknames that pop up. I like Lauren Willig's Turnip. And my son wishes there really was a Drones Club to be a member of!
Last but not least, I have really enjoyed your books Ms Malliet!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Pat, yes, that's a great poem, "Death of the Ball Turret Gunner." It's by Randall Jarrett who was a marvelous poet.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Just wen back to a review I'd done of Linda Hogan's ROUNDING THE HUMAN to find this tiny gem of a poem from that book.


The Way In
By Linda Hogan

Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body.
Sometimes the way in is a song.
But there are three ways in the world: dangerous, wounding,
and beauty.
To enter stone, be water.
To rise through hard earth, be plant
desiring sunlight, believing in water.
To enter fire, be dry.
To enter life, be food.

Libby Dodd said...

I learned The Jabberwocky early on and still love to say it out-loud.

Reine said...

Hi Gin,

I'm wondering where I've been that I haven't met Max Tudor yet. I am very pleased that I popped in here today. I was almost diverted but... this is good... and your thoughts on poetry... yes, I'll try those books, too. I need more word medicine. Thank you.

Reine said...

And I do love Sherman Alexi. Fry bread will never look the same.

Deb said...

Oh, Linda, Death of Ball Turret Gunner. That was my favorite poem for years, and I'd forgotten it. Thank you.

I love the things you've posted today. I was so ready for a poetry infusion. And, Gin, I did get the Housden book. Can't wait to get into it.

Donis Casey said...

Nothing improves fiction writing that learning to write poetry - you learn to get right down to the nub of things in a few words. And I am a Mary Oliver lover, too, as well as Minnesota poet Louis Jenkins (who is also a childhood friend of my husband's. Talk about funny, sly, and wise, all in 100 words or less!

G.M. Malliet said...

What fabulous comments, and great suggestions for poems I now must read. I am enjoying your comments so much - sorry I wasn't around much today to respond but I had computer issues. Really, honestly.

Marni said...

Enjoy the books, GM, and await the next. Deb C, reading your new one now! Poetry, so wonderful. Jabberwocky, Sharon Olds, even the lyrics of Leonard Cohen. Louise Penny chose a line of his for the title of her next one, and uses Margaret Atwood's poems for those of Ruth Zardo, her Three Pines poet.
Binky it may be, but I think the powers that be will choose Arthur for a boy and I think if it's a girl at least one of her names will be Diana.

Julia said...

I love Gin's books! I think at the next Lambeth Conference, the Rev. Clare Fergusson should meet the Rev. Max Tudor.

My choice for must read poet: Matthew Arnold.

"Only--but this is rare--
When a beloved hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another's eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen'd ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress'd--
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know."

Royal baby names? I say let's return to the good old tradition Anglo Saxon names like Ethelred and Athelstan and Eadgyth. Down with these French and German upstarts, I say! Britain for the Britons

G.M. Malliet said...

There are too few Eadgyths in this world, agreed.

Marni - what title has Louise chosen? I have a sinking feeling we've glommed on to the same Cohen lyric. That's ok, title is different from plot. But still, how very strange if I'm right.

Deb said...

Julia, too funny. Although if Clare met Max, Russ and Awena might be in trouble...

I hope if Wills and Kate use Diana they'll keep it to one of the middle names. Diana as a first name would be a big burden to carry. And if it's a boy and they name him Arthur, he probably will end up being called Binky...

Gin, the upcoming Louise Penny is How the Light Gets In. Is that a Cohen lyric? Must brush up on my Cohen.

Deb said...

Linda R, I love the Linda Hogan (The Way In.) May have to memorize that one. Thank you.

Reine said...

Linda, so far poetry I can handle in hard copy, except on very bad days. If it's a very bad day, I can't do much of anything except listen.

Reine said...

Binky, what we call a baby's pacifier. But I like it. Prince Binky. Bink when he goes away to school?

Linda Rodriguez said...

Deb, I'm glad you like the Linda Hogan poem. She's a wonderful poet with lots of books out. She's also a fine novelist and was a Pulitzer finalist for my favorite of her novels, MEAN SPIRIT. Pick it up if you get a chance. It's based on actual Osage history and is often (and always by me) rated one of the best novels of the 20th century. Stunning book!

G.M. Malliet said...

Deb - yep, it's How the Light Gets In, one of the poems/lyrics featured in one of Housden's books. Ah, well, great minds thinking alike and all that. Not too surprising as it it probably one of Cohen's best-known writings. But still, what an odd thing to happen. I must ask Louise Penny to clear her titles with me from now on--joking, of course.

On the same subject, I'm always half afraid Julia Spencer-Fleming and I will pick up on the same hymn. We sort of did with One Was a Soldier. Julia - it would be so funny if the Rev. Clare Fergusson met Max.

I will spend some time today making a note of all these wonderful poetry suggestions. Thank you everyone for making me feel so welcome.