While I write poetry and essays, the heart of my writing process resides with my fiction--with metaphor and the stories which emerge from one metaphor or set of images. In my first published (but not first written) novel, Hatching (2001), the metaphor is a bubble or the nested bubbles which contain and protect life, from cells to galaxies. The story is about a child with severe combined immune deficiency who moves from one bubble to the next after protective confinement begins to feel like imprisonment. The novel also explores how people from different roots can nurture each other through various passages. Developmental psychology provides some scaffolding for those passages.
My non-fiction publication (three books: The Rest of the Deer: An Intuitive Study of Intuition; From the Listening Place: Languages of Intuition; and Restoring the Orchard: A Guide to Learning Intuition) places this novel in an intuitive framework. I define intuition, in the tradition of John Dewey and Susanne Langer, as “a realization of wholeness which is simultaneously internal and external.” Because of this simultaneity it can find expression only in an image or symbol and plays itself out through narrative rather than discursive or rational analysis. Although intuition can be useful in a variety of fields, my interest is primarily aesthetic in that this definition of intuition provides a theoretical underpinning for my own poetry and fiction, as well as my understanding of literature as well as social action.
The themes I explore in Hatching are ones which permeate much of my poetry and fiction: inclusion/exclusion; the insights that come from the margins; family /communal/systems dynamics; friendship; freedom/security; nature as home; the importance of diversity; themes of personal transformation and social movement.
I enjoy experimenting with various genres in my fiction. Hatching is a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel (thus the underpinning of developmental psychology). My next novel, Wandering Potatoes (2002), is an historical novel which explores my Irish roots through my matrilineage, particularly stories passed down through the women in my family. Next is Who? (2004), a pseudo-mystery novel which explores issues of personal and collective identity in the women’s movement of the 1970’s and 80’s. Queen Bea (2005) is a tragedy, an “oppositional narrative” based on King Lear, which explores what happens when a king becomes a queen and an ancient tale is translated into a contemporary idiom. Change of Course is a novel of ideas, based on this model of progressive education. This Land is a novel memoir about a group of women who created a community in the Adirondacks woods. Water Spies is a “spy novel” about a community organizing against the privatization of water.
As a writer, I have avoided, perhaps without choice and possibly from self-protection, the commercial and the limelight. While I find producing a product through to publication to be very satisfying, I find the process of production even more fulfilling. Writing for self-reflection, for meaning-making, for healing, for play, and for communication are aspects of the process I value most.
My fascination with light began when, as a toddler peering through the bars of my crib, I became mesmerized by the light pouring through the slats of the venetian blind. Later I would become entranced by the dust motes floating down through a beam of sunlight, the dance of light on water, the play of the setting sun on clouds, the shimmer of light through leaves, the halos of light around beloved heads.
When I grew older, I tried, without much success, using oils, to paint the light. Then, with more success, I tried photography. The camera became an instrument of exploration, focusing me deep into the darkness for hints of illumination or far off to the horizon for distant flashes.
Finally I found my most natural yet challenging medium, stained glass, which provided lenses of color and texture by which to capture and mediate the light, particularly sunlight which when directly experienced by human eyes is far too intense for intimate viewing.
For many years I accepted the conventional limitations of stained glass, that it must, for its own integrity, remain two-dimensional. Then I began experimenting with making it three dimensional, slowly building out from the flat plane until pieces finally took on their own three-dimensional structure. This discovery eventually enabled me to combine my passion for structures—particularly rounded organic structures, with my passion for light (since it was too late for me to become an architect).
After experimenting with spheres of various shapes and sizes, I began constructing houses, then my neighborhood, then a village, in appreciation for the simple yet lovely structures surrounding me in rural Vermont. After buildings came the landscape which surrounds these buildings: streams, rivers, ponds, hills and mountains.
Then the vehicles by which we move through this landscape: various mobile units, a truck, a school bus, a plane, and finally, in celebration of the Vermont summer, small boats of every sort. And more recently, having discovered the joy of recycling broken glass treasures and colorful bottles, I’ve been “creating” people, people with wings, people in couples, families and groups.
The more I do this work, the more playful it becomes. The found object, I’ve discovered, is as delightful as the constructed one. I love discovering unique pieces from anonymous glass artisans, particularly bargains, and focusing more light on them, while connecting the past to the present. The humblest vase or glass can take on a new persona with only a slight modification. As one poet puts it, “There is nothing so small it does not matter, nor so marred it does not charm. There is nothing so common it cannot save you.” (Barbara Horvath, “Lake Glass,“ Glass Works, edited by Jennifer Bosveld, p. 36)
What I hope to achieve through all this light play is what “The Man Who Loved Glass” (Henry Davis Sleeper) achieved merely by collecting glass objects, “some of it rare, some of it five-and- dime, all of it stunning in sunlight or back-lit against frosted panes…upstairs, downstairs and in every chamber… the glass not only shines but enlightens.” (N.M. Brewka, Glass Works, p. 14)
Light, combined with water, is our greatest blessing; it gives us life. Glass, made from common sand, is one handmade, human scaled vessel for containing light. Playing with both is a simple privilege.
Sybil is one voice of many ancient female oracles
(Delphic, Eritrean, Libyan, Cumaen) who lived in
caves and underground caverns.
You tease and tug at my cave's frontiers, nudge against
my rocky home, harsh to a stranger's touch, sharp
to his sight, impenetrable except to the most knowing
feet—I blur and shine, blessings enter, contours glow
and shift—you soften the lines of my confinement here.
With you reflections swim in my waters, shimmer
off my damp walls, calling into me the green
outside, giving me soft shapes of my own truth.
Margaret Blanchard © 2013. All Rights Reserved