Ethel Mortenson Davis’s drawing is the perfect artwork for the cover of the epic:
Ethel Mortenson Davis’s drawing is the perfect artwork for the cover of the epic:
by Thomas Davis
On January 1, 1975 I was working as a teacher at the Menominee County Community School when the Menominee Warrior Society took over the Alexian Brother’s Novitiate in Gresham, Wisconsin. Ethel and I were living in the Gresham trailer park at the time, and on January 2, a Monday, I drove into work as usual. I was a little nervous about taking my usual route down County Road VV since the news about the Novitiate was dominating local media and the old building was not far off my route, but I was pretty dedicated to the Community School and had no intention of missing work.
Sure enough, as I drove toward the Menominee County line, men in uniform, holding rifles in their hands, were blocking the road ahead of me. I remember a lot of snow on the ground, and it was cold. January in northern Wisconsin can be brutal. I drove up to where the men were standing, stopped, rolled down the window, and, after a conversation of several minutes, convinced them I was a teacher on my way to work. The men were tense and nervous and that was obvious in their questioning of me.
By that evening the Novitiate takeover dominated television and print news all over the world. However, other events were brewing in Shawano County where the Novitiate was located that would not make news until later. The Posse Comitatus, conspiracy minded, anti government, anti Semitic, white supremacist Christians, was beginning to stir and develop as an armed militia force, and even a cult with a mysterious origin was preparing to form a compound on land purchased not far from the old Menominee Reservation’s borders.
Four Windows Press has just released an epic poem that blends these, and other elements present in Shawano County from those momentous times, into an epic story. An American Spirit, an American Epic is a fictional poem. I worked hard to avoid portraying any real individual, even though I knew several of those who took over the Novitiate, in a story that rages with reality and magic, blending all the elements of Shawano County and the Novitiate takeover into a massive river of events told in traditional iambic pentameter meter. But there are powerful truths woven out of the heart of where we are at in American society today in the story.
The Editor of a small literary journal in Stevens Point, Wisconsin published two brief passages from the epic in Hepcat’s Revenge in April of 1995. Just before the passages appeared Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma Federal Building, giving warning of what was about to become a significant thread in American life. In his commentary on the passages he published, the Editor said that An American Spirit was prophetic. He also commented that there were a lot of pages of strong poetry. Given events such as the deadly Charlottesville riots and President Trump’s racist attitude toward American Indians, it’s difficult to avoid the prescience of the Editor’s judgment.
I have not published the epic before now partially because I was reluctant to self-publish it and partially because I have always wondered if it would be more controversial as a work of art than I wished to face. There are so many questions about it in my head. This is the only R rated work of literature I have ever written. The Posse Comitatus still exists under another name, and the epic does not treat them well, as is appropriate, and I used a lot of American Indian content derived from books noted in the footnotes. Should a non-Indian author do that? I have worked for the Indian controlled schools and tribal colleges and universities movements most of my life. The wisdom of American Indian culture is deep and wonderful, but it is their culture and belongs only to each tribe’s unique ethos.
The truth is that even though the epic is available through amazon.com, I do not intend to market it aggressively like I do my other books. I believe it explores the American spirit in a way that it should be explored. American society is not a melting pot where races, ethnicities, and political identities are blended into a single whole. Rather, it is a complex explosion of identities played out inside the great pageant of history that is always becoming an uncertain future. Conflict and resolution stir in surprising and unexpected ways, giving Americans an identity that is never static, but spins its forces in ways threatening the continuance of the natural world and even human beings who depend upon that world for existence.
The magic elements of the epic are derived from two main sources, although other sources can be found in the body of the poem. Many of the magical allusions are drawn from the Old or New Testament of the Holy Bible. American society for a large part of its history up until the current day has been a culture imbued with the Christian religion. However, in counterpoint to Christianity, the also epic explores the power of the feminine and fertility based upon the tenants of the White Goddess of Celtic lore and other ancient symbols of female power. The conflict between the father dominance and the fall out of the Garden of Eden and the powers of Mother Earth has long seemed to me to be a ferment helping to define current day American society.
Even though, I admit, I am hesitant to invite comments from those who read An American Spirit, An American Epic, I hope those who are willing to delve into its pages feel free to tell me what they think. This is one of the major works, written a long time ago, of my life. I need to steel myself for whatever reception it does, or does not, receive.
All Things That Matter Press (ATTMP) is in the process of publishing my new novel, In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams. I first learned about ATTMP when I started reading Diane Denton’s new novels. Then I read some of Mary Clark’s books and became familiar with other ATTMP writers. When Deb Wayman of Faire Island Books Washington Island suggested that I might consider writing a book about the black fisher community that had settled on the island before the Fugitive Slave Act, and then I got busy and spent a year working on a novel, I decided to submit the manuscript to two publishers: ATTMP and the University of Wisconsin Press. To my great surprise ATTMP responded immediately to my query letter and followed that with a contract. Since they responded so quickly I was excited to sign with them.
ATTMP has some really great books in their catalog. I hope some of the readers and supporters of fourwindowspress might consider going to their website at http://www.allthingsthatmatterpress.com. I can recommend several of their authors and especially Diane Denton.
Ethel has gotten news that one of her poems, “Migration”, had been selected for an anthology that will be published by Water’s Edge Press. When the anthology is published it will be available from amazon.com or the publisher at https://www.waters-edge-press.com.
I wrote a novel for young adults, 9-14 and up, a long time ago. It was completely sold out, so Four Windows Press is re-releasing it. I am hoping some of the followers of this blog might consider purchasing it in amazon or at their favorite local bookstore.
Salt Bear is a story taken from the mythology of the American west. It is filled with mythological animals such as salt bear, jackalopes, cactus bucks, blind ravens, a snow owl, bears, and an evil mountain lion. At a recent WFOP meeting I was informed by a young attendee that it was one of his very favorite books ever. I’ve had quite a few young people tell me that since its first release.
The wild tale begins:
Salt Bear did not like the idea. Not one little bit.
Buddy, a jackalope, one of Salt Bear’s best friends, had started calling him George.
“Salt Bear’s a kind of bear,” Buddy had explained when he first started using George. “It’s not a name.”
“But why George?” Salt Bear had asked. “That doesn’t fit a salt bear. Why not Salty?” He brightened up. “That could be a good name for a salt bear.”
Buddy had scratched behind his right pronghorn just above his big, floppy ear. He looked like a jackrabbit. His brownish-pink nose was set off by a handsome set of whiskers, and he had powerful hind legs. Two slender black horns stuck out of his head above his ears.
“Salty’s a name for a bird,” he had said scornfully. “Besides, I would have liked to have been called George. Not Buddy.”
Salt Bear had shaken his gleaming white fur, and then blinked tan eyes in bewilderment. For a bear he was small, although he was full grown. He stood a little over three feet high. . .
I’m pretty sure you might remember the excitement you had reading The Wind in the Willows, Watership Down, or the Redwall books. I certainly had an enormous amount of fun writing the tale down.
Four Windows Press has just published Ethel Mortenson Davis’s new book, Under the Tail of the Milky Way Galaxy.
This is Ethel’s fifth book of poetry and has all of the poems she has written since moving to Wisconsin from New Mexico.
John Looker, one of the world’s finest poets, The Human Hive, wrote from Great Britain that “Here is a harvest of finely-judged lyrical poems that express a joy in the natural world. Carefully observed and beautifully expressed, they are not just nature poems however. Ethel Mortenson Davis has a deep reverence for nature, coupled with a sadness at humankind’s frequent indifference.”
Standing Feather, whose book, The Glowing Pink, has recently been published by Four Windows Press, said in his review that “There is something profoundly spiritual and tragically elusive in our understanding of the vast wilderness. In Under the Tail of the Milky Way Galaxy, Ethel Mortenson Davis shows us how to connect deeply with the sacred spiral and reminds us that compassion is the fragrant essence that draws light into the darkness of human desire and elevates us to the edge of grand possibility.”
We’re hoping that those who love elegant, finely crafted imagistic poetry will pick up a copy at amazon.com or from the Galleria Carnaval in El Morro, New Mexico, www.galleriacarnaval.com. This is a book that continues the fine tradition of publishing quality poetry and fiction pursued by Four Windows Press.
by Thomas Davis
I have just signed a publishing contract with All Things That Matter Press for my new novel, In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams. I was first introduced to ATTMP by the books of Diane Denton. The author of three novels (Without the Veil Between is a book that I have recommended on this blog), I have followed Denton’s career before she became an ATTMP author. I have also read some of Mary Clark’s books, the latest being Miami Morning, who is published by ATTMP. Located in Maine, HTTMP has a substantial, and important, list of both authors and books that they publish.
In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams is a novel about a black fisher community that located on Washington Island off Door County before the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. At the time it was the largest black community in Wisconsin outside of Milwaukee. The novel traces the community from the time of its meetings with Preacher Tom Bennett in the boot of Missouri in the Mingo Swamp through their flight from slavery northward through Chicago to West Harbor on Washington Island.
I first stumbled across the Washington Island community of black fishermen when I was doing research for my non-fiction book, Sustaining the Forest, the People, and the Spirit (State University of New York Press), a number of years ago. When I moved to Sturgeon Bay I read Island Tales, an anthology by Kay Curtis, and found a mention of the community again. I was intrigued and started researching in order to write what I thought of as a sonnet sequence at the time. Then, on a trip to Washington Island, the owner of Faire Isle Books, Deb Wayman, told me she would really be interested in a book on the black community since no such book existed. What was first intended to be creative non-fiction later turned into a novel.
The following is the sonnet that introduces the novel:
A Spenserian Sonnet
Inside the swamp beside a cypress tree
(White herons in the water, bullfrog croaks
A symphony as dusk, as stealthily
As cat’s feet stalking small, shy birds, evokes
The coming night) the Preacher slowly stokes
The fire blazed in his heart and starts to sing
Songs powerful enough to loosen yokes
White masters forged through endless menacing.
The words he used burned deep; he felt their sting
And saw his spirit fire alive in eyes
Awake to dreams, inflamed imagining
Of days spent free beneath glad years of skies.
The darkness deepened underneath the tree.
He’d preach, he thought, then, later on, they’d flee.
I should also send out a word of thanks to Ralph Murre, the former Door County Poet Laureate, who gave me the title of the novel during a poetry workshop at the WriteOn, the writer’s retreat and organization in Door County. It is a paraphrase of a line from a poem by Pablo Neruda.