Sunday, September 7, 2008

Morning Glory--A Book Title

In moments of exhaustion and the inability to focus on my writing, I've at least tried to keep thinking about my prose manuscript by coming up with a title. As a poet of 17 years, I know the importance of a title--it's not simply something that sells books or grabs your attention, but it must also pull its own weight thematically, metaphorically, descriptively. Sometimes the title gives vital information to understand the layered meaning of the text.

So when I think about my now 260 page manuscript, a memoir / nature / history of garden and religion / who knows what else book, I go in as I would a poem and try to find a re-occuring image, something that resonates, something that keeps popping up. And I find morning glories.

But I'm wary about the history of the plant, something I'd like to include in the book, but even if I don't, check it out:

"Morning glories are poisonous if injested. Certain varieties are a hallucinogen. The Chinese used it as laxative. Meso-American civilations used it to convert latex, via sulfur in the seeds, to rubber 3,000 years before Goodyear did.

Besides being both food crop and garden ornament, some notorious Ipomoea species have been used for their hallucinogenic properties. The Aztecs ingested the seeds of I. tricolor—which contain a lysergic acid alkaloid—during rituals to commune with their gods. It was risky business, as who knew whether the gods wanted to communicate or not, and it's certain the seeds are toxic and potentially lethal."

Someone who picks up the book might know this history, but most probably won't. Still, as I use research and work hard to make sure facts are indeed facts, I wonder if fact is only a matter of degree, or even if it's a matter of personal perspective. Like memory. Or love.

I am falling in love with my book and I know this is a dangerous proposition. I don't want it sullied or harangued from any angle as if it were a politican's pregnant daughter. Some day, lord willing, it will go out on its own as a message in a bottle, or a fledgling, or these monarchs I keep sending off. The more I edit in prose, the more I appreciate the emotional investment a lifetime of words have, and the more I understand why so many of us are silent or so easily hurt, or why even a touch or smile or laugh can save us.

As my open window lets in a cool early autumn breeze that's sliding through distant elms and maples--and as the crickets and frogs echo this wind--I remember that these words are not the only ones that give us life, and that they are as necessarily fleeting.

And so, for now, it is Morning Glory: A Memoir of Place and Family in the Garden.


Frances, said...

A gut instinctual choice, Benjamin. It would be difficult to change it at this point, considering the way you feel about it. Almost defensive. All of life has risks, especially love.

Les said...

I hope the process goes well for you. It must be like having a child; only from conception to adult maturity in a short period of time.

At least once a year at the garden center we have knots of young adult males come in for morning glory seeds. This is not a demographic we normally see as a customer. They also have been known to ask for grow lights and Salvia divinorum. I am always encouraged when I see the younger generation take an interest in horticulture.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Frances--Well, I better get less defenisve, and I will, because I doubt everyone will enjoy what I do. This still perplexes me in life. :)
Les--I laughed out loud to your comment! Never done that before. It IS good that they take to horticulture, in any way, I think. But morning glories? Really?

Amanda B. said...

When can I buy a copy? :)

Anonymous said...

A laxative, eh? Perhaps that's the ultimate comment on the writing process! I too am at work on a new novel now, which incorporates family history, though not my own, and I keep playing with "nasturtium" as part of the title. Like you, I think the title absolutely must pull its weight. let's hope I pull it off! As for your own book, may it spread its wings like your emerging monarch, stretch, and take off for parts unimaginably far away, returning every now and then to remind you that it still lives!

Gloria said...

The name alone can call to those of us that will read your work.
I am currently reading 'Letters to a Stranger' Thomas James book of poetry.His image on the cover and the title drew me in, the words inside keep the book at hand.
It must take great courage to finally say this is ready, take a look.

Benjamin Vogt said...

AB--When pigs fly. Sigh....
OFB--Not your own? This sounds strange. Is it like a biography then?
Gloria--Well, I suppose it's courageous, but I don't feel that way. Of course, I'd rather communicate with people in writing than talking, so my fault is, perhaps, a positive in this respect?

Anonymous said...

Since you asked about the novel: It's actually a sort of novelized biography of my maternal grandmother, who was born in the days of the horse and buggy and lived to see a man land on the moon. Who was indulged and wealthy before the Depression and impoverished afterwards. Who had been privileged and unthinking before doing the unthinkable and marrying a (gasp!) Catholic, and who then had to face down the bigotry of her small-town community. Who was a highly educated, high-strung genius in an era when women were supposed to shut up and stay home, and who suffered the consequences. All told, it's quite a story, and has always fascinated me. I just hope I'm good enough to pull it off!

Benjamin Vogt said...

OFB--I don't always appreciate it when people suggest books to me--I already have 50 books I'd like to read--but a helpful model might be one called Turning Bones by Lee Martin. He weaves his own story, memoir, into a larger fictionalized narrative of his farm family ancestors in Illinois as he tries to figure out who he is and where he's from, especially as someone who will be ending the family line by not having kids of his own. It's very interseting how he structures it and makes a story out of truck loads of often cryptic research.