by Jeanne Larsen | Contributing Writer
1.0: Like Penelope of many turnings, many tropes, Penelope whose shuttle pivots at each line’s ending: poem-makers are penelopean.
1.0a: Let’s untangle that tautology. Crafty, watchful, mostly-patient, weaving warp + weft into a storied web, we poets [we makars] make figured pictures out of whole cloth, shrouding what might be. What is.
1.0b: Moreover, like much-named Penelope, we in the dark hours [like as not] ravel our hatch-worked images. Cunning as Penelope, we must resist, persist, outwit the bully / suitors of our world’s strictures, its demands.
1.0c: As for the nature of the illusory ornamented grave-cloth? As for where + how we catch the threads?Be mostly-patient. I’ll get to that.
1.1: Try to reckon it, that pivotal word ravel.
1.1a: ravel = an entanglement. And so, to become entangled or confused.
1.1b: In the century we call the 17th, ravel meant “to examine or inquire into.”
1.1c: Of course, it also means “a loose end.” Means “to fray out.” Hence, “un-ravel.”
1.2: Now there’s a twisty turning: what, exactly, does unravel mean?
2.0: Poets are Odysseus-like, too: rafting from one topos to another, not exactly in control. Storm-toss’d. Fast-talkin’. Brooding on some lush island’s rockiest point.
2.1: Some say poets are ingenious, as was Odysseus. Say, makars use ingenium to make the little engines they name poems.
2.1a: Latin, ingenium: mode of thinking or apprehension, capacity, natural disposition, genius, wit—it’s the root for English’s engine [Scots ingine]: contrivance, contraption, a product of ingenuity / plottings / snares.
2.1b: Yes, snare like bird-trap. [Think: ἔπεα πτερόεντα, winged words.] Also, as in snare drum: a string of gut. [Think: lyre-string.]
2.1c: Strings like the warp-threads in heavy linen sailcloth, that canny handmade catcher of moving air.
2.2: Re: Penelope’s ingenious husband. If we now spoke Middle English, we’d call him enginous. Or its cousin, engineful: skilled in war.
2.2a: In other words: skilled at making the hollow replica horse-engines of trickery.
2.3: A duplicitous replica, filled with a living surprise: that’s the work of twist-&-turn-y Odysseus, designer of the Trojan horse. That’s tricksy, poly-tropic us.
3.0: Speaking of replicas: we are shadows stretching out from old man Homer. As are Penelope, Odysseus. As are Homer’s words.
3.0a: You say, I’m not no Homer-man. I speak my own tongue. You make more poems, shiny-new, to prove this.
3.0b: I agree. We’re not him. But he defines; he preexists. Our readers read him, or they read his readers, or they’ve heard tell of his tales. We’re inescapably trace-marked. Are penumbras [almost-umbras], attenuated silhouettes.
3.0c: That is to say, phantoms, which are phantasms, that which is made visible.
3.0d: Okay, okay, you say: our poems are spectral shadowings. That’s not the same as saying we are, is it?
3.0e: It’s not? Get real.
3.1: There were many Homers, not just one: each chanting this bit from a skein of passed-down lines + incidents, then adding that one. Interlacing strand + filament.
3.1a: After which, most likely, one cunning, mostly-patient, ingenious compiler-composer threaded the bits together, sailing from scene to scene.
3.1b: Then more little Homers smoothed the fabric. Or unraveled it a little. As do we.
3.1c: Raveled it, I mean. I think.
3.2: So anyway: Homer is a shadow-Homer too. The shadow of 100 ghosts.
3.2a: In evolutionary biology, a ghost lineage is a descent-line of which there is no fossil record. We deduce its existence from the once-living beings that come before & after: 100 ancestors, could be, in one shadowed space.
3.3: Recall that famous antique bust of Homer: ghastly marble eyeballs blank + intro-verted, turned within. We Homers see [you know this] differently. See presences, 100 shades.
4.0: The thing about long-dead Homer is [& the thing about this thing about Homer is, the thing applies to you + me], that thing is: he is recursive.
4.1: Recursively, I think, is how, when we think / speak poem-ishly, we do it.
4.1a: By he, I mean, they. And not only in order to inject a little lifeblood into the 3rd person singular.
4.2: Mostly, I’m talking about one Homer-construct, the fabled bard who engineered the Odyssey. But that Homer also circles back to mean another: the one who earlier conceived / compiled / constructed / wove / composed the Iliad.
4.2a: I’ve heard a wise + famous classicist refer to the 2 Homers as maybe master & apprentice, maybe uncle / nephew, or the like. Seems more likely than 2 lightning strikes in a mere one life, said the kindly + ingenious + mostly-patient classicist.
4.2b: Besides, he said, they don’t see things the same way. Meaning: H1 & H2.
4.3: So even Odyssey-Homer was a copycat hard at work in Iliad-Homer’s shade?
4.3a: Sure. At work, & echoing.
5.0: We’re mouthy, poets are. Flesh or marble makes no never-mind: mouthy as anyone who tells a tale to score a supper by the fire.
5.0a: Almost forgot—there’s an unrelated word, obsolete + rare: ravel = loquacious, voluble. So: poets are ravel-people.
5.0b: Hey, I’m just saying. But, admit it: we can be a tad long-winded. And we sometimes announce [echoing the Ithakan bard Phemios] that, inspired, we breathe in gods.
5.0c: What, then, do we breathe outward from our cheeky mouths?
5.1: Making rhythms, we thump our chests, maybe in an antique West-Asian bard’s-beat. Yep, even in this century that pretends to be the 21st, we PO-ets THUMP our CHESTS.
5.1a: 30 hundred years ago or so, Odysseus in a hard moment slams his hand against his chest & scolds his feeling self. Totally a poet, am I right?
5.2: How Penelope’s heart must have gone ka-THUMP ka-THUMP when the beggar who was disguised-Odysseus picked up his bow in the feast-hall, about to shoot the bully / suitors!
5.2a: How the arrows must have slammed into the home-invaders’ chests!
5.3: Let’s ditch the gender binary: chests thumping, thumped, Phemios / Odysseus-style, we penelopean poets slam-strike the weaver’s rod to set the threads. We pluck the bowstrings of the loom, the lyre.
5.3a: Sound old-fashioned? But arrows fly as sharp-or-dull today as back in Bronze Age, Iron Age, Steam Age times; we send lines like lyric arrows, straight toward hearts.
6.0: The free-thinking Victorian writer / translator Samuel Butler called the Odyssey “the Iliad’s wife.” An intriguing gendering.
6.0a: Heart-piercing, even. Poor closeted Samuel was not throwing shade.
6.1: In 1897, as we these-days count the years, Butler put forward in The Authoress of the Odyssey his theory that this epic was created by a “young, headstrong, and unmarried” woman.
6.1a: So you gotta be ungovernable, rash, manless, to be an author-ess, a lady-Homer? Okie-dokie, Mr. Butler. I’ll go with your queer reading, despite your Victorian words.
6.2: But Penelope could not evade those mean ol’ gender rules: inside the poem, they hold her prisoner inside her fancy house. Even her just-past-teenaged son points out that she’s a woman so, shut up. Go back upstairs, he says, & spin + weave.
6.2a: Was she then a shadow—or a serial-Homer?
6.2b: In Nathaniel Mackey’s shimmering essay in Splay Anthem, he writes [weaving back to Jean-Paul Sartre, Iris Marion Young]: “In seriality, rasp is recursive form, a net of echoes; it catches.”
6.2c: Serial: a word from math, linguistics, computer science, the field called criminal justice, publishing, music, the study of psychopathology. Seriality is a positioning: things [or persons] placed into a group, a category—such as gender, race, a journal-submissions reading queue. Odd constructions, mostly, I must say.
6.3: So: seriality is identity, of a sort. Sometimes, a basis for essentialization & oppression. Also, a useful base for action. A collectivity.
6.3a: Like: authoresses. Like: poets.
6.3b: So, also: seriality’s effects are power-full. Are power-plays.
6.3c: So: are real as any net of echoes. As poems’ percussions on our chests, their repercussions within the ribs. Real as recursive form.
7.0: Loop back into the penelopean textile: boustrophedonic, ox-turning, back-&-forth-y, pivoting. Homer is recursive how?
7.1: Well, we have those epithets re-sounding through the texts. The wine-like sea. Dawn, her fingers abloom with light. There are, as well, the type-scenes, e.g., the every-time routine of welcoming a stranger-guest, where the same actions + descriptions occur, recur.
7.1a: Following a recycled format gets the reciter-poet through. Same for the rest of us.
7.2: Plus: Odysseus makes one big jumbled circle-ravel, right? Ithaka to Troy to all those other places, then finally, finally, winding [or un-winding] his way home across the Mesogeios, the Afro-Euro-Asiatic Sea.
7.2a: As for the mapping of the story—the thing we call its structure: the telling circles out & back, again, again. Ring composition, the scholars call it. An aid to memory, mother of the muses.
7.2b: Meanwhile, on Mount Olympus . . . Ach, the tale’s a double tangle, loop-ish as the circuits in our brains.
7.2c: Thus: the Homer-model maps ways to break free of narrative linearity. To fabricate our poems from circles + spirals + roundaboutness + centripetal force.
7.3: Oh yes, & this: the voice of Homer is an assembled one. The language of the poems that cast their shadows us-ward is a polyglot meshing. Ionic, Aeolic, Arcado-cypriot. Hittite + non-Indo-European loanwords. Some over-writing in Old Attic.
7.3a: One argot resonates with another + another, in Homer’s verse: speech-worlds we might call dialects, or chronolects of some topolects, of ancient Greek. The umpteen-voiced lines resound in parallel.
7.3b: Tired of lyre-strings? Try: a multi-colored tapestry, a collage, un bricolage.
7.3c: Es verdad: no one [save Homer] said things as Homer says them. “Itsa Kunstsprache, cher,” I said once in a poem that hounds Homer. It is art-speak, darlin’: the hey-this-is-different, hey-lissen-up talk that poems talk.
7.3d: Inclusive—hence, disruptive—Homer’s scrambled poem-lingo is.
7.4: Ναί, да, हाँ, はい, righty-o. We poets make a polytonal music. Forget the pronouncements [Wordsworth, Whitman, Williams]: we don’t quite speak the speech of our time’s every-day.
7.4a: Our work’s to take the ordinary out for a little spin. We pull our loopy tricks: the re-soundings, recycled structures, the circling-rounds.
7.5: If I had a lyre, I’d strum it now: Stuu-rumm-umm-umm! Then strum again: spinning out the recurring sundry-noted echo-music of a penelopean dream.
8.0: Homer leaps his story-poem from one scene-place to another, making a makar’s associative, dreamlike moves.
8.0a: Dreams can be downright Homeric, eh? Vast + loosely structured. A little confusing, then vivid AF. Eerily [to repeat myself] recursive. Reiterative, which means: re-repeating.
8.1: But wait. Odysseus’s long fireside recitation of his wanderings [the cyclops & the lotos-eaters, Circe & the Hades-journey & the Sirens & Kalypso], is all that just the stuff of vaporous fancy? Are poems dreams, or are they deepfakes, heaps of Trojan horse-apples, lies?
8.1a: Tsk! Fake news in The Post-Mycenaean Post?
8.1b: The story-structure invites us to consider it; the destitute stranger does need to win his listeners over. And we know the guy lies big-league. Why wouldn’t he make shit up?
8.2: Yet scrounge a bit, & you’ll find what looks like counter-evidence within [ahem] the story-poem. Such as: Odysseus lays out his fantastical adventures only because Athene [who is honest Wisdom] sent a dream to the princess Nausikaa, telling the girl to go down to the shore.
8.2a: Nausikaa falls for the naked shipwrecked gent; Odysseus doesn’t starve. So dreams are good things. Like poems, they have effects. What’s real-er than that?
8.3: Fine, then—poems are dreams. But about their truth-value: sometimes, they’re Penelope night-visited by her far-off sister Iphthime.
8.3a: No, by a non-physical likeness of Iphthime, the resemblance–only–of a visitant, fashioned by Athene. An image of an appearance, a simulacrum that Homer says Penelope mis-takes for the actual Iphthime, until faux-Iphthime sets things straight.
8.3b: I guess Wisdom is not so trustworthy after all.
8.3c: But Iphthime’s the kind of semblance that takes on its own life. Has, again, effects. Penelope? From seeming-Iphthime, she takes heart.
8.4: Jean Baudrillard calls such things [un-things, fictional-talked-of-mimetic-dreamt-of-faked-up-Iphthime things] hyperreal. He shies away, disdains.
8.4a: He leaves us breathless, dreamless. With a dustbin-load of despair.
8.5: I guess the ones who weave, the makars, cope with hyperreality’s unstable sea-charts more fruitfully than did M. Jean B.
8.5a: It takes guts, takes moxie, to embrace the re-presented extra-ordinary + its slippery god-touched ravelings, rather than critique it.
8.5b: To be Penelope dreaming, threading, sketching, mapping, looping, in communication with the numinous. To be Odysseus big-talking. To go a-poeting.
9.0: Sometimes the poet is the sad queen after midnight, speaking in dactylic hexameters to a beggarman who’s her consort in disguise. That quick-tongued woman, in the story, tells the story of another dream: her night-sighting of an eagle, killer of her beloved gaggle of pet geese.
9.0a: But maybe the winged signifiers, the semes, are not what they seem.
9.0b: Easy to decode her dream-tale this way: Odysseus will soon swoop down, sharp-taloned, upon the bully / suitors who flock around Penelope. Will bring them bloody death.
9.0c: Easy to think Penelope dreamed up a string of doubletalk to tell him of her heart’s desire—the dispatching of her harassers, who plotted homicide against her son. She says to the beggar: the dream-eagle said he was my husband, returned for vengeance.
9.0d: Saying: do it, dude. Then maybe we’ll do what married people do.
9.1: Yet Penelope also says she wailed with sorrow when the dream-geese died. We know she knows that one of the suitors [the one you too would see as best among them] put paid to the murder plot against Telemachos. And everyone in her world knows she’s got to marry someone sometime soon.
9.1a: So maybe slaughter isn’t what she wants? Maybe the purported dream’s not request, but question: Stranger, is this what you intend?
9.2: Exactly 20 geese flock up in Penelope’s maybe-made-up dream. But 108 so-called suitors plague the queen of Ithaka. Hmmm.
9.2a: Maybe Penelope puts her grievous 20 years alone into her lines of verse about the geese? Maybe she wants the scroungy vagabond to see them.
9.2b: 20 years while he wing-manned that blowhard Agamemnon, & slipped into Troy to be bathed by pretty Helen. Then made love to Circe, & screwed Kalypso, & flirted with the sharp-eyed ingénue Nausikaa.
9.3: Odysseus, bent as he is on bloody murder, insists her word-thing has but one decoding.
9.3a: The bloody murderer!
9.4: But Penelope argues for polysemic readings of what she says her fancy-mind has made. She says, per R. Lattimore: “dreams are hard to interpret, hopeless to puzzle / out.”
9.4a: Yeah, maybe the rackety multi-vocal dream-geese [fake-dream geese?] are the years + the badgering greed-ball suitors, both.
9.4b: She reminds us in her 6-beat lines that true dreams leave the murky underworld through a gate made out of polished animal horn, while false ones use a gate of ivory.
9.4c: If Penelope sets out, with well-shaped words, 2 gates, one for phoneys, then which one [I wonder if Penelope wonders] will he who listens walk through?
9.4d: Which one [I wonder] works for those who listen to the story of his listening?
9.5: But—close your eyes. Forget the dubious status of Penelope’s yammer. Can you not see her plump, bustling, palpable, cherished geese? See ‘em true as true can be?
9.6: It seems Penelope the makar makes her maybe-made-up dream from both slick ivory + dark-mottled horn: a shape-shifting duple portal of truthy lies.
9.6a: Yeah, maybe the Odyssey means many things. Maybe other poems do, too: polyvalent messages come out from the dark below.
10.0: At that same long night’s end, Penelope dreams of lying beside a man who looks just like Odysseus—I mean, Odysseus in her remembrances of him, before he sailed away.
10.0a: A re-enactment of a vanished percept: now that’s a poem-y thing.
10.1: It tortures her, her aphrodisian longing for him. [As Sappho will be tormented, & Petrarch, & the rest of us.] It makes her spill words.
10.1a: Penelope’s dawn-time outcry is a just-awakened, wet-eyed prayer to Artemis, shooter of arrows, the forest virgin who courses aloof & wild.
10.2: Actually, Penelope says she’s dreamt—then says no, it maybe wasn’t that. She says [per E. Wilson] “it seemed / a vision, not a dream.” Says [per R. Fagles] “the waking truth at last!”
10.2a: Those dream-wet words are not mere wish-fulfillment. They’re prophecy.
10.2b: Later, after the horrid slaughter & a nice hot bath, the age-worn hero gets spiffed up by Athene; sweet P. sees that hunky bloke of 20 years ago.
10.2c: A real dreamboat, scudding toward bed with Queen Penelope.
10.3: Okay, then. Poems are sometimes vatic: prophet-offerings of truths not [yet] material. Dream ships, carrying us downstream.
10.4: And sometimes poems are dawn-hour lyric outcries, prayers for surcease from yearning: like Penelope’s in the Odyssey, a poem already old when the first lyric poets whose names we know [Archilochos, Sappho] were not yet born.
10.4a: But maybe it was rewoven later? Ah, there’s a timesome ravel.
11.0: No lie: in addition to a weaver’s rod, a weaver may use, to separate the warp-threads, a raddle. Sometimes, I must tell you, a raddle is called a ravel.
11.0a: It keeps the threads from, you know, raveling up into a ravel. So no string-plucking air-sucker need un/ravel them.
11.1: Anne Carson in her backward-weaving poetic essay Eros the Bittersweet: “In [the early Greek lyric poets] we see…a systematic breakup of the huge floes of Homer’s poetic system. Epic formulas of phrase and rhythm [are] differently assembled in irregular shapes and joins.”
11.1a: Me, I’m no Archilochos, no Sappho, but I’ve made poems by snagging slivers of epic ice. Ditto A.C. You too?
11.1b: Ocean-eyed [γλαυκῶπις] Anne Carson says: when after-poets do this, the old ice floes smash together, freeze up rough.
11.1c: Like a snarl of threads. But not.
11.2: She also says, “Breaks make a person think.”
11.2a: Between the silent fractures, the chunk-ness of the chunks of drift-ice [figures, story-units, phrasings] turns visible. The chunks become, within the new poem’s pack ice [a pallid sheet of paper, a bright-white device-screen field], their own shapely shadow-selves.
11.2b: Shadows of Homer’s shadows, too. Of each translation, every reading.
11.2c: I mean: of the words from which we’ve made a shady simulacrum of a man. Made Homer, whom we’ve reassembled 100,000 times.
11.2d: Breaks [+ what’s between them] make a person? Think.
11.3: BTW, when I say poem, I mean lyric + I mean epic. I mean essay, novel, story, too.
11.3a: Of them all, I say [as Carson does, as poems do]: attend to the riparian joins, the fertile rifts. The systemic unravelings. The beshadowed ravels.
12.0: Another thing that happens in the dream-zone / poem-zone, in sleep, in Homer: Odysseus nods [off]. His fool crew opens the bag of winds & [oo-eeeee!] they’re blown way off course. Air-shoved into new domains.
12.0a: No poet, as you know, has ever been such a dolt. Uh, right?
12.1: My fave name for the airy Cimmerian elsewhere where we dis-cover new assemblages is hypnopompia, that time between sleep & waking. When we genius-like [per Aristotle, Poetics] see likenesses in differing things—e.g., pack ice + a clusterfuck of thread.
12.1a: Check Wikipedia: “the hypnopompic state is emotional and credulous dreaming cognition trying to make sense of real world stolidity.”
12.1b: That word, hypnopompia, was patch-worked [floe-frozen] by Frederic W.H. Meyers in the century that pretended to be 19th, from hypnos, sleep + pompe, sending away.
12.1c: Pompe, like Hermes the psychopomp [ψυχοπομπός], who as the Odyssey starts ending, guides the bully / suitors’ souls bat-shrieking [eeeee-oo!] to the dim underworld.
12.2: That’s when our brains, Odysseus-ly, float along on easy alpha waves and steady thetas. That’s when Penelope sees what’s up with the uncanny beggarman: when she’s dreaming, or spinning out a fake dream, or in a trance-y reverie at dawn.
12.2a: For millennia, it’s occupied the commentators, discussing what Penelope does or does not figure out about this wanderer, & when. Most interesting, most plausible: she knows + knows not. She neither wakes nor sleeps.
12.3: You know what that feels like, blind echolocation [oo-eeeee-eee-ee] in the hypnopompic semi-dream realm. Poets know most deeply when we half-know, no?
13.0: Reflect on this half-sleep / half-waking, this intertidal sentience. It comes as a visitant [rare bird!] the wisdom-goddess sends. It heartens us, though it won’t answer all our questions.
13.0a: Odysseus does not recognize his 20-years-lost Ithaka when he first wakes from the sleep he was magicked into by the folks who took him, finally, there. Then Athene comes to him, disguised, & then he knows it. Knows he knows + [knowing things have surely changed there] knows he knows it not.
13.0b: Ithaka, its goats + rocky slopes + fuming hearths: these are veridical. Pretty near as good as graspable, as tangible. Which ever-receding Ithaka is not.
13.0c: This terrain [the Ithakans’, also: Homer’s] is both real + not-real. Same goes for the tangled arrays we sleepishly determine when we’re half awake.
13.1: Poets learn to cultivate those times of a-rational cognition, just as someone [name-lost, enslaved?] once cultivated the olive tree that stood [its branches lopped, still rooted in] as corner-post for the marriage bed of Odysseus + Penelope.
13.1a: Such tenebrous awareness is radical, springing from the very roots.
13.1b: It is the twofold gate: of horn + ivory, of lies that semblance truth, & also, tell it.
13.2: We often look to enter in the early hours, when it may seem our fingers bloom with light. Or, may seem that a peevish storm-god hounds us with ill will.
13.2a: Also at midnight, when the feast-hall’s emptied. When dreams arise.
13.2b: Not only then: some pursue it in the brain-doze of alcohol or lotos / laudanum or 100 other drugs. Tobacco, even: one of the psychotropic [psyche-turning] plants in the family called nightshades, for the shadow-time.
13.2c: Some enter through the body’s littoral rhythms—walking, running, pacing, breath-focused meditation. Through the musical shock + aftershock of waves that pound an island’s rocky headland. Of pulse-beat syllables. Of thumping chests.
13.3: Call it auto-hypnosis, this self-sought semi-waking. No: auto-hypnopomposis.
13.3a: It’s the fog-wrapped home toward which Odysseus travels in a spell-cast sleep. It’s Penelope’s small-windowed room, where Penelope’s loom stands ship’s-mast tall.
13.4: Out of this liminality we spindle-whirl the threads to plait our snare-ropes, to weave our webs, saying: listen: this upstairs room, this Siren-chant, this journey to an Ithaka unrecognized.
13.4a: Saying, look: this war, this life on fatherless adulthood’s brink, this urge to enter the monster’s cave & eat his stores, this maelstrom, these misfortunes that seem like bored gods’ whims.
13.4b: And: this entanglement of tales, this rasp, this seriality.
13.5: This semi-dreamtime is when we truly shadow Homer. When we are most Penelope. When [un]raveling thought makes ravels from stored / discharged perceptions reconfigured + the rootedness of things.
13.5a: We navigate then map-less; we carry charts [from Greece, from all the lands around the Afro-Euro-Asiatic Sea] that the old poems shadow forth.
13.5b: Devious + mostly-patient, or vindictive, or rhapsodic—or all of these—on a raft we may claim an island-goddess helped us build, at dusky dawn [whatever the time of night or day], we angle the artfully woven sail. Set off.
14.0: Hang on. There’s this: if an auto-antonym is a word that’s its own opposite, like cleave [= sunder; = hold on tight], then those 2 words ravel + unravel are whatever word’s the antonym of auto-antonym.
14.1: Not synonym. The point is not that ravel = unravel [to free from being twisted, complicated, knotty, to make plain]. What sets us sailing is that unravel = ravel [a tangle, an inter-lacing, a crisscrossed skein, an intricacy; also: to perplex].
14.2: Sure, Penelope’s a makar. But un-making the burial shroud she’s making for her husband’s father, the family’s moribund head-man: that un-making is her great making.
14.2a: Without her verisimilar lies [I can’t re-marry; the grave-cloth isn’t finished], the restoration of Odysseus to the home she has held onto, & Telemachos’s at-last adulting, & Athene’s final ear-thumping command to stop the fighting: those would be impossible.
14.2b: So, yes: in unraveling, Penelope makes a ravel that will last for 30 centuries. And counting.
14.3: I think that word I wanted [I mean, the anti-auto-antonym, the one where opposites are one, like Homer (=singer, lyrist, makar) + Homer (=webby text)], the word for that endless-knot of a word, is poem.
Jeanne Larsen was born in Washington DC, and she grew up on and around US Army posts in Germany and the United States. Her books of poetry include What Penelope Chooses (2019), which won the Cider Press Review Book Award, Why We Make Gardens (2010), and James Cook in Search of Terra Incognita (1979), an AWP award series winner in poetry, as well as many uncollected poems and essays. She is the translator of Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon: Women’s Poems from Tang China (2005) and Brocade River Poems: Selected Works of the Tang Dynasty Courtesan Xue Tao (1987). She is also the author of four novels: Silk Road (1989), Bronze Mirror (1991), Manchu Palaces(1996), and Sally Paradiso (2009). The recipient of various awards and fellowships, she is Professor Emerita in the Jackson Center for Creative Writing at Hollins University. She continues to travel widely in Roanoke County, Virginia, and other places.