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Craft of Writing: If Wallace Stevens could talk to Toll Brothers


Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock

by Wallace Stevens

The houses are haunted

By white night-gowns.

None are green,

Or purple with green rings,

Or green with yellow rings,

Or yellow with blue rings.

None of them are strange,

With socks of lace

And beaded ceintures.

People are not going

To dream of baboons and periwinkles.

Only, here and there, an old sailor,

Drunk and asleep in his boots,

Catches tigers

In red weather.

 When I landed in the United States, my aunt drove me home from the airport to her house, where I would stay for a few weeks before going on to graduate school. I remember the deafening silence during the drive. My aunt and I had plenty to say to each other, but throughout the drive I was aware of a silence that began outside the raised windows of her car and extended to the moving scrim of houses and buildings in the neighborhoods we passed as we drove to her home in an expensive Cincinnati suburb. To me, the silence was tremulous. It hung like a cobweb, threatening to shatter into the noise and chaos I was used to on the city streets of India, which were filled with honking and the sound of engines sputtering, the discrete sounds of transport vehicles fashioned out of the cabins of small trucks, extended to contain seats for anywhere between 3 to 10 passengers, of scooters, of motorbike riders revving and roaring, all against the irrepressible tinkle and chime of bicycle bells, clanking obstinately between their fuel-driven counterparts. Only, it didn’t. The silence remained unbroken. When we pulled into her curving cobble-stone driveway and I stepped out of the car, the silence grew louder, broken only by occasional bird-call. The quietness made me so uncomfortable, I could not sleep for nights. Is it this silence that dresses the American suburb, and haunts its houses, bathed in the bright light of bulbs, in the white night-gowns of Steven’s poem? Not comforting like the silence of the woods, or a quiet garden scene, but a silence borne from the lack of necessary disorder, a silence that is artificial and curated by the very laws and regulations that make American suburbia the haven of safety and predictability that is its unique selling point?

Stevens’ poem is a commentary against the anodyne life of the American suburb. The sameness of the homes, the white-lit unity of their little blocks and fences and lawns, the trundling mail-truck. None of them are strange, he says, but why would we be, the houses might say in reply. The people who live here are not going to dream of baboons and periwinkles. There is no place here for the artistic and the frenzied, or for the outlier. It is only the poet who wants to  experience life in its many colors. The poet is alone in craving the sight of purple houses with green rings. For company, he has the drunken sailor, who, having rejected social mores and himself been rejected by society, dreams of catching tigers in red weather. Modern, civilized society is blind to its own delirium. Everything that is colorful and human and alive is lost in this ghost-country of perfect homes and perfect order. “Give me chaos, give me truth, give me danger,” is the implicit cry of the poet, but he will not be granted it; to have access to it, he too has to live on the fringes of society, like the sailor asleep in a drunken stupor, still wearing his boots. The cost of freedom is too high to pay for those who buy into the humming dullness of ordinary living. The American suburb is part of this American mythology — it is a product of the nearly mythical reach of urban and suburban sprawl, and the industries that run behind these systems to make them look and work the way they do. The poet pleads for the mythical qualities of color and wildness, of animals and exotic accoutrements, as absurd as lace and beaded belts, to somehow make their appearance and redeem modern American living of its curse of uniformity and conformity.

By using whimsical and absurd imagery that is the complete opposite of everything that the poet actually sees, Stevens evokes the vigor that is absent from modern living with its trappings of comfort and respectability. How wonderful that we can never know what exactly a tiger in red weather is. But we can dream of it. Yet even that dream, of a tiger bounding and leaping, borne from some deep and unexplored desire, is the luxury of a homeless sailor. The people who live in the neatly painted homes set in rows upon a street, have lost even the ability to dream of what they might truly want and need.

– Mary Ann Koruth



Drunk on Ink Q & A with Jamie Sumner ‘Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood.’

Drunk on Ink is a fun blast interview with writers, artists, filmmakers and more conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor.


Read  Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018

Jamie Sumner is a writer and mom living in Nashville. She is the author of the book, Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood. She has written for The Washington Post, Scary Mommy and Parenting Special Needs Magazine and has an essay forthcoming in The New York Times. She is also an editor at Literary Mama. She can often be found at the park with her three kids, the dog and a large cup of coffee. All the writing happens when everyone else is asleep.

Publishers Weekly says…

Feeling imperfect? There are mom-books for that – offering solace in faith and welcome infusions of humor as well. Jamie Sumner, in Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood (FaithWords, April 10) describes her journey through infertility and special needs parenting. Her trip has not been easy, but Sumner found in the Bible stories of women who show her hope, companionship and triumph in releasing herself in God’s hands.

UNBOUND gives hope and encouragement to all women whose picture of motherhood is strained by disillusionment, otherness and even despair. Women do not talk enough about the reality of motherhood: the struggle it takes to get there, the loneliness of it, the unmet expectations. We are often too ashamed to share our difficult stories. We quietly absorb the posts of sonograms and happily messy houses on Facebook as we inwardly wonder what’s the matter with is. We struggle to meet the everyday needs and special needs of our kids, caught by surprise that this is what motherhood looks like. With honestly and vulnerability, JAMIE SUMNER walks readers through each stage of her own journey to motherhood through infertility and special needs parenting.


Soniah Kamal:  First author/book you read/fell in love with?

Jamie Sumner: I have two books that wooed me at two very different times in my life. The first was C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It was the first book to make me believe that magic could be hiding anywhere. The second was Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. I read it in the NICU after my son was born and felt for the first time that no, it’s not just me and this particular situation, all mothers feel this crazy.


To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Coffee to start. Wine to end.


A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

As a former English teacher, my list is long. But I will say, Lord of the Flies. It’s such a testament to the unraveling chaos of our human nature when all the rules disappear. It’s like every single episode of Survivor made real.


Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

Ah yes. Grapes of Wrath. I just couldn’t get through it. Steinbeck is a genius, but it took East of Eden to lure me in and make me go back for this one.


A favorite quote from your book? 

I have two:

“Life is a continual etching and erasing. We form expectations and God forms reality. Sometimes they line up nicely, like tracings at right angles. And sometimes God plays Jackson Pollock and we’re all over the place.”

“Motherhood is often like this, a continually changing plan that has you kicking the tires and eating fried rice.”


Your favorite book to film?

The first Harry Potter. It is magic made perfect.


Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

Parnassus here in Nashville.


The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

I wish I had known that creation happens in secret, but promotion is one big loud shout through the megaphone. Being a professional writer in the modern world takes both the quiet and the noise.


Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

Nope. You build your platform and hope that street cred will get you places. But ultimately, each work must stand on its own. Marketing gets easier with practice, but the writing and publishing reset with each book.


Dog, Cat, Or?

Dog! I have had my Zoe longer than I have had my husband. She might be my soulmate.

Favorite book cover?

I love Rupi Kaur’s the sun and her flowers with the hand-drawn sunflowers. It’s simple and genius, much like her work.


Favorite song?

“Heavenly Day” by Patty Griffin. It makes me want to take a nap in a field.


Favorite Small Press and Literary Journal?

As an editor for Literary Mama, I have to vote for us on this one. We hit such a unique market—mothers who write, and write well, and writers whose works hit on the mother-child relationship. We celebrate the famous and the up-and-coming and the great small press finds. We love it all.


Last impulse book buy and why?

I bought The Power by Naomi Alderman because I was 39th in the hold list at the library and needed in now. It was worth it.


Soniah Kamal’s novel ‘UnMarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House USA. Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dreamis about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.