08 January, 2017

Joanna Paterson A Selection of Short Stories and Poetry Collections –

My two books of short stories, “The Old Turk and Other Tales” and “Through the Mirror”, examine that tricky balance between experience and the spiritual world that anyone—and the author—would encounter or like to encounter. There are realms which take us beyond ourselves—and I like to explore them. Short stories should stimulate thinking—they are always potentially true. So many of them lose themselves in the usual earthbound stories about romance and the twists and turns of people in love, but I tried to go beyond those confines to involve spiritual worlds. The short stories I wrote are phantastic in the sense that they treat the unseen as a vital encounter, but engage with it, also, if you think of it that way,  as a possible extension of the Self.
The stories don’t tell you what to do. They are meetings with vibrant beings, ways of seeing. Some are fun, like the story about hats in the Old Turk collection. I also call to mind the ancient goddesses and what they represent—this in Through the Mirror. You can visualise  this as about memory and about the sea and the land. I have been to these places myself—but they are transformed and show themselves in a new way.
I explore Europe and ancient places in Ohio, U.S.A., and what they represent, the unusual, the dialogue with them that can create connections, letting go the mundane, the things you are used to. I hope there is pleasure in these extensions of the mind’s adventures.
What I liked most are the stories of transformation in “Through the Mirror”. The metamorphosis does not have to be into human lives, but can be a bird such as in “Jenny Wren”. Or it can have a message as in “The Owls of Scarba”. And then there are some places that simply evoke the moon and thinking in different ways of where you are, such as in an eighteenth century tower in Dessau, Germany,  or in a long forgotten village in Austria.
“The Shaman Birches of Argyll” and “The Travelling Moon”, my poetry books, on the other hand, are grounded in experience and often on watching the sea while sailing on the West Coast of Scotland. They are an exploration of nature and lochs and birds, indigenous or otherwise, especially the seabirds that visit. These show closeness with nature that can only be vitally expressed in poetry. I think about the natural world and try to find it again in words. I was born in the land-locked—except for the cross European river Danube—city of Vienna. So this is an encounter with a different and exciting world.
My books of poetry probe the new countryside in the Highlands where water is everywhere—the mysterious sea, the lochs and the burns. The rising moon, the trees and ferns that grow wild on hillsides are also featured. The essence of the poetry is both myth and place. Nature has different dimensions and I want to bring them close to the reader. Poetry gives feelings and vision in versions that other genres cannot.
I do not believe that even adult books should be without images. So I have given all my books illustrations. I hope you like the way words and pictures go together!
My books are all available from Amazon as Kindle or print-on-demand editions under the name Joanna Paterson.
Joanna Paterson, aka Joanna Geyer-Kordesch (professor emerita)
Through the Mirror
screen_shot_2016-09-29_at_09-31-14It is wise to hang a mirror in the darkest corner of the darkest room. It will catch the light where it shines least. It will suck in the remaining light like a waterfall. The light tumbles down into the deep, dark space, the dark side of the mirror. Like the dark side of the moon, the most beautiful light gathers and meets there.
Put the book down on your lap as you sit in the room with the mirror and look up. The room is painted in oxblood which means it has a mauve sheen. The deep colour brings out the pictures. They lift from the walls. They circle the room in measured leisureliness. They know they are the artworks that last; but the mirror enthrals them because it has stories in it.
The white hand-made paper in one frame shows the big rust-coloured fishing vessel that lists towards the stonebuilt quay. The coal steamer is tired-looking. The wood creaks; it has not been caulked or cleaned. It was painted a loving bright red once with a blue arrow decorating its prow. The blue has washed out. The red of its funnel is rusted. The fine black paint of its pilot house is slashed in peeling greys.
The fish that were once hunted have come to eat its powerful remains. The phantom herrings in shoals that once graced the waters of Scotland now nibble the floating devil that destroyed their silver lives. What was once quick as a flash, made of thousands of squalls of rain and intermittent sunlight, is now but the sighting of ghostly companion fish. In the mirror the hand-made print captures the fishing boat that tells the stories of the turbulent sea.
The Shaman Birches of Argyll
screen_shot_2016-09-29_at_09-30-37A book of poetry.
I was startled the first time I took a train out of Glasgow into the Highlands. This was in 1990 when I took up a post at the University. The images of that journey follow me yet. What to me was a toy train without, to my ear, the clickety-clack and rumble of heavy axles and big station clocks with station master’s whistles, showed me wild beauty beyond its windows. I saw scooped valleys rising like angel’s wings. I saw new colours, earth shades that blended sparseness together, browns tough as deer hides and mercurial greys in cliffs and tumbled rocks. Rivers churned over pebbles lustred with light, and pointed first ridged hillsides in deep green. The day was a lucky one, with me not knowing how often it rains: the sun was out, the skies were blue.
Immediately I was in love with the Highlands landscape. I fell in love with ruggedness. Opposites attract. I grew up a child of the city. I was born in Vienna. My journeys had been on transalpine trains through Switzerland or across the Dolomites into Italy. I had been shocked at the cool, urban spread of Glasgow with its lack of curlicues. In my experience cities were highly ornamented. In Vienna the family went to church up elaborate steps into interiors dominated by the marbled grace of Corinthian columns and ornate side-altars. Baroque splendor allowed cherubim and seraphim to glow golden in the inner sanctum. The familiar company of saints stared down, recognisable through their emblems. St. Catherine held her wheel; Peter his keys; and Sebastian, riddled with arrows, interceded for us as martyr and patron saint to the city. Nor did the pagan gods loose their footing. On every errand through the inner city, looking up at the sky, I saw on the roofline of the palaces the sculptures of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and the god of the arts, Apollo, and Hermes, the god of the crossroads.
The Travelling Moon
screen_shot_2016-09-29_at_09-29-16This book aims at your imagination. All the Selves of what you might be, are envisioned in that moment when the moon is afloatin the sky. When Reason does not rein in the Self, you are left to dream, to connect to the night-side of nature. Then the landscape that surrounds becomes a gateway to what might be.
But first, let the women who were unconventional bring their case forward. The first section, Stories, begins with poems about them. One was an astronomer of the 18th century, Marie Henriette von Sachsen Meiningen, and lived in one of the first ‘English’ landscape gardens in the German principalities. She built her own observatory and went there to bring stars closer into view—her very own science.
The writer Bettina von Arnim, the next woman I mention, was an eccentric but truthful and intriguing woman of the turn of the 18thto the 19th centuries. She was the granddaughter of Sophie von La Roche, one of the first women novelists and a friend of Christian Martin Wieland. Her great granddaughter was Gisela von Arnim, a friend of the Grimm Brothers. Gisela later married Wilhelm Grimm. Bettina, her mother, married Achim von Arnim and this turned out to be an adventure for both of them.
All this inspired my poetry.
The Old Turk and Other Tales
screen_shot_2016-09-29_at_09-28-49 Old stones are forever whispering.
To walk up an old lane is to hear voices.  It is the mighty dead that unlock our hearing.  The narrow lane leads upwards.  Overhead the houses nod to one another.  They are ornate; the window frames seem tied with ribbons in shades of cream and optimism.
Men and women bow their heads here to presences both mightier and more forgiving than worldly ambition.  Sorrow looks back; faith looks up.  When Death comes the priest is called and last prayers are said.
I had come back on a visit on the spur of the moment.  Whenever I came back I was within earshot of childhood.  This was the prescient childhood of belief.  As a child you know you are but a dot in a vast cosmos.  Cathedrals are in your blood.
I was happy to take out the frilly ribbons of fantastical thought.  In the North I had gotten used to sparseness as a way of life.  Think before you speak; otherwise excess will seek you out like the devil’s palaver.  A penny earned is a penny saved and suchlike.  I was sympathetic to this as I was born with frugal habits.  Also I was a scholar.  In the old days of libraries I spent even sun-drenched days in the dusky corners where a wooden desk let me read and write.
I had forgotten the joys of opulence.  I had put aside soaring emotion.  Only deep within did music still speak in crescendo and allegro.  Music unheeded by blood or bone runs unseen, there on the far mountain where the moon rises.

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