Winter, Red Boots & Ravens

michael lythgoe By Michael Lythgoe
2016 SCWW President/Aiken Chapter Member


Wallace Stevens gave us lines for winter in his poem, “The Snow Man”:

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Hello. Happy New Year. The SCWW Board of Directors elected me to serve as your president this year. I would much rather read and write and not do meetings. But, alas, some must serve to hold our organization together.

So I am happy to embark on the good ship SCWW. I have nothing but high regard for those who have led us this far. I can only hope to steer this ship of writers with the continued support of my crew, and, you, the members.

In other lives l led boards as president of the Academy For Lifelong Learning at USC in Aiken, as Director of an educational and research board for a manufacturing association with a group of business school faculty; I also served as president of The Aiken Choral Society. I have no specific plans except to keep us sailing forward. Our finances are improving. We will not do a big conference in 2016, but we will offer programs on line, WEBInAirs. We are open to one-day programs that chapters offer. Contact us with ideas. Keep recruiting new members. Be ready for submissions to The Petigru Review. Try to sell the 2015 issue. Everything helps.

The light changed with the Winter Solstice. Our days are already starting to lengthen. As writers we must manage the light, the time we have. It will be a while until spring, so we must have a mind of winter. The fiction writer who teaches at Stanford University, Adams, who won the National Book Award for his short stories spoke recently on PBS. His inspiration comes from his obsessions. One of his obsessions is amber. He was wearing a piece around his neck when he was interviewed. Plumb your own obsessions; write a story; document the winter weather, the emotions in the landscape. Write a poem.

I spent Christmas at Saint Meinrads Monastery and Archabbey in southern Indiana. The monks offered peace with their singing, chanting the psalms. I lived in a plain room with no TV, no cell phone, ate meals mostly alone, took long walks, listened to the bells calling us to prayer 5 times a day. I was totally struck with the silence. I found a lot of creative work on display there. The church glass was designed by artists in St. Louis. Another religious artist painted individual faces of the twelve apostles for a last supper scene. The technique was the true fresco style of using earth tones in lime, painting while the cement or plaster is still wet. One of the Benedictine monks, who calls himself Angel With Red Boots, a brother, works in stone, carves in rock, pats on paper. Some of his recent works were being shown in the Saint Meinrad’s Library. The Benedictines follow the rule of St. Benedict: Work and Pray. Offer up your art as prayer. I know a painter in Augusta who follows that rule. Your art is your work.

Rivers are still rising and lakes are being drained off so The Savannah River is overflowing its banks, pushing down stream. The waters are high again in Columbia. St. Louis is flooded. I crossed many rivers swollen outside their banks in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky. Maybe it was a raven that returned to the ark with a sign of land after the flood subsided. Two ravens befriended St. Meinrad, the hermit monk in Switzerland, for whom the monastery is named. Watch for ravens, make art, listen to the silence, have a mind for winter. Write. Soon I drive south to Palm Beach to join a writers workshop. Find your own retreat.

Michael H. Lythgoe is a hoosier by birth. He lived near and took canoe trips on the Ohio River and the Wabash as a boy. He studied in St. Louis near the Mississippi, and now lives in Aiken, SC near the Savannah River. Mike is a contributing editor and reviews art for Windhover, a literary journal.  His poetry collection, Holy Week, is available from Barnes & Nobel and Amazon. Mike holds an MFA from Bennington College. He teaches a course on the literature of espionage for the Academy for Lifelong Learning at USCA. This is Lythgoe’s first blog post as  SCWW President for 2016. 

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